Hurricane Earl drenching Belize, then heads for Mexico

Hurricane Earl bore down on the coast of the Caribbean nation of Belize with the danger of high surf and winds, while also threatening neighboring Guatemala and southern Mexico with torrential rains.

Hotels along Belize's coast and the low-lying islands offshore had already pulled in awnings and beach chairs as the rains from the category-1 storm began whipping the coast Wednesday evening.

Authorities in the Mexican coastal state of Quintana Roo, to the north of the hurricane's predicted path, reported some evacuations and prepared shelters in case of flooding. Some people evacuated low-lying coastal areas in nearby Guatemala.

By late Wednesday, Earl was a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of Belize City and moving west at 15 mph (24 kph).

A hurricane warning was in place for Belize and parts of Mexico, though the storm was expected to begin weakening when it moved ashore. The hurricane center said heavy rains would be a danger in southern Mexico through Saturday as Earl crosses the Yucatan Peninsula and the states of Tabasco and Veracruz.

On Wednesday, Earl raked the northern coast of Honduras with heavy rain. Officials said a big wave capsized a lobster fishing boat in the Caribbean, but all but two of the 83 people on board were rescued. The navy was looking for the two missing. Authorities also rescued four families in the coastal city of Trujillo after a river jumped its banks.

Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' emergency commission, said there were reports of large numbers of trees and utility poles being knocked down. Schools and universities closed across Honduras' coastal provinces as did two commercial airports.

In Belize, the government opened storm shelters and used radio and television broadcasts to urge residents of low-lying areas to move to higher ground.

Officials also ordered the international airport in Belize City to close and archaeological reserves and national parks were shut. The Belize Tourism Board announced that cruise ship calls had been canceled for this week.

Employees of the Caribbean Villas Hotel, in San Pedro on Belize's Ambergris Caye, pulled in beach chairs and chaise lounges as rain began to fall on the popular beach resort.

"Anything that's not anchored in, we've pulled back and out of the way," said hotel manager Paul Jewitt.

"It's a big storm but we're feeling relatively good over here," he added, noting the hurricane was expected to make landfall farther south.


Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.