Hurricane Earl nears Belize, dumping rains on Honduras

A member of Copeco monitors the trajectory of Tropical Storm Earl, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Aug 3, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BELIZE CITY (REUTERS) - Hurricane Earl thundered towards the shores of Belize on Wednesday (Aug 3), dumping heavy rains on Honduras and prompting hundreds of people to take cover on the Caribbean coastline as the large storm closed in.

Four hundred people have so far been evacuated from Belize's northern islands Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, Lionel Cuthkelvin, operations officer at the National Emergency Management Organization, said by telephone.

Cuthkelvin said at least 20 shelters were already harbouring people, mainly in Belize City, Stann Creek and some villages off the Caribbean coast. Residents of Belize City and other coastal communities were being urged to move inland.

The US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said Earl was blowing maximum sustained winds of 121kmh, as it churned 240km east of Belize City.

The storm is expected to weaken when it reaches the coast and moves inland. Earl is forecast to hit Belize later on Wednesday or early on Thursday, the NHC said.

In eastern Honduras, 88 shipwrecked fishermen were rescued in La Mosquitia, while two are still missing, Luis Florentino, deputy chief of emergency agency Copeco, said by telephone.

Wilmer Guerrero, head of the fire department in the Honduran island of Roatan, said it has shelters to accommodate 500 people but they were not being used yet. "The tourists are in their hotels, which are safe and solidly built. Here it's the local people that go to the shelters," he said in an interview.

In Mexico, rescue officials in the state of Quintana Roo evacuated about 200 people living in the atolls of Banco Chinchorro and Punta Allen by Tulum, south of Cancun.

Quintana Roo's tourism minister Raul Andrade Angulo said that the 410,000 travellers currently visiting the state would be safe because the region has 788 hurricane shelters for more than 280,000 people, including 55 shelters for tourists.

Red flags were put up on beaches in Cancun to keep tourists away from the sea.

Earl, the fifth named storm of the 2016 season, is expected to bring 20cm to 25cm of rain that could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides in parts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico through Thursday night, the Miami-based NHC said in a statement.

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