BELIZE CITY – BELIZE CITY (AP) — Tropical Storm Alex weakened to a depression Sunday hours after making landfall in this popular tourist destination, but is expected to regain strength in the coming days as it moves out over warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
Although Alex could eventually become a hurricane, it is projected to touch down on the Mexican coastline later this week well away from the area where BP PLC is trying to stop a massive oil leak, the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said.
On Saturday, Alex soaked parts of Central America and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula with torrential downpours, killing four people and forcing hundreds of tourists to flee resort islands. Winds were at 60 mph (95 kph) when the storm made landfall in Belize on Saturday night but had decreased to 35 mph (55 kph) by Sunday morning.
The heavy rains prompted a landslide in northwestern Guatemala that dislodged a large rock outcropping, killing two men who had taken shelter from the storm underneath, said officials from the national disaster-response agency.
In El Salvador, Civil Protection chief Jorge Melendez said two people were swept away by rivers that jumped their banks. About 500 people were evacuated from their homes.
Authorities in both Guatemala and Belize were keeping an eye on rising river levels. One bridge in western Belize was swamped entirely, cutting off a remote Mennonite community. Seven homes in the Belize River Valley, outside Belize City, had their roofs blown off, and at least one structure collapsed.
Belize officials opened storm shelters in the island tourist resort of San Pedro, as 1,400 people fled for the mainland by plane and by boat.
But the country apparently avoided major damage, and emergency coordinator Noreen Fairweather said on national radio that there were no reports of injuries. People who took refuge in storm shelters were returning home.
Along Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coast, officials warned tourists to stay out of rough surf kicked up by the storm. But there were no immediate reports of damage to popular beach destinations such as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
Now all eyes are on the Gulf of Mexico.
When Alex became the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, officials immediately worried what effect it could have on efforts to contain the millions of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf.
A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well, directing some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected or burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August, which are considered the best hope to stop the leak.
For the time being, the storm appears likely to miss the oil-slicked region and make landfall in Mexico, apparently in Tamaulipas state — but meteorologists warned that a storm's track can quickly change.
Alex was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) south of Campeche, Mexico, on Sunday.
Meanwhile in the Pacific, once-powerful hurricanes Celia and Darby weakened to tropical storms and did not pose a threat to land.
Associated Press writer Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun, Mexico, contributed to this report.