2007-09-03 20:52:03 -
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) - Hurricane Felix, now a Category 4 storm, drove through the Caribbean Monday toward Central America, where forecasters said it could strengthen again and hit the coast with catastrophic winds shortly after daybreak Tuesday.
Felix's top winds weakened slightly to 230 kph (145 mph) as it headed west, but the
U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that it could easily strengthen again to become a catastrophic storm. It was projected to rake the Honduran coast and then slam into Belize on Wednesday.
Honduras evacuated 2,000 people from its coast and island resorts, including some 700 tourists, as winds and surf picked up Monday. Some waves were crashing 5 meters (15 feet) higher than normal, but there was no rain yet.
«We are ready to face an eventual tragedy,» said Douglas Fajardo, fire chief on the Caribbean resort island of Roatan.
Some locals prepared to ride out the storm.
«The tourists, they're evacuating. We're staying here,» said Estella Marazzito, who works at a Roatan real estate company. «At this moment, it's what they call the calm before the storm. There isn't even a breeze,» she said, but added, «We know it's a tremendous hurricane that's coming.
Felix seemed likely to make landfall at the Honduras-Nicaragua border, along the remote Miskito Coast, which was already being pounded by heavy rain Monday. Honduran lawmaker Carolina Echeverria said officials were still trying to find enough gas to fuel boats evacuating people in the region, where isolated Miskito Indians speak a mix of Spanish and creole.
Honduran authorities also cleared vendors from markets prone to flooding in the highland capital of Tegucigalpa, more than 100 miles inland.
In Belize City, skies grew increasingly cloudy and winds kicked up as people boarded up the windows and waited in long lines at gas stations. Dozens of tourists struggled to claim the remaining seats on flights to Atlanta and Miami.
«I just wish they had more airplanes to take care of everyone who has to leave,» said Mitzi Carr, 48, who cut her weeklong vacation short on the island of Hatchet Caye and was still waiting for a flight home to Atlanta.
Many Belize residents were still cleaning up from last month's Hurricane Dean, which caused an estimated US$100 million (¤75 million) in damage, mostly to agriculture, in Belize alone.
«I stopped cleaning debris and trees from my yard. Might just get messed up again,» said Wayne Leonardo.
Felix did less damage than feared in the southern Caribbean. The hurricane toppled trees and flooded some homes on the Dutch islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, and heavy rains and winds caused scattered power outages and forced thousands of tourists to take refuge in hotels. But it just grazed the tiny islands.
«Thankfully we didn't get a very bad storm. My dog slept peacefully through the night,» said Bonaire medical administrator Siomara Albertus, who waited out Felix at home with her Labrador retriever.
Felix, which briefly reached category 5 status Monday, is the second Atlantic hurricane of the season following last month's Hurricane Dean, which killed at least 28 people as plowed through the Caribbean and then slammed into Mexico as a Category 5 storm.
This is only the fourth year since 1886 that more than one Category 5 hurricane was recorded in an Atlantic season, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only 31 Category 5 hurricanes have been recorded in the Atlantic since 1886, and eight of them have formed in the last five seasons.
At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) Monday, Felix's winds had dropped slightly from a peak of 265 kph (165 mph). And while it remained a fearsome hurricane, it had a very small wind field, with hurricane-force winds extending just 45 kilometers (30 miles) from its center.
Felix was centered about 490 kilometers (305 miles) east of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border, moving west at about 33 kph (21 mph), the hurricane center said.
The hurricane center said Felix could dump up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in isolated parts of northern Honduras and northeastern Nicaragua, possibly bringing flash floods and mudslides.
It was projected to slash across Guatemala's Peten region and southern Mexico, then emerge in the southern Gulf of Mexico, an area dotted with major oil drilling platforms.
Off Mexico's Pacific coast, meanwhile, Tropical Storm Henriette was nearing hurricane strength on a path to hit the resort-studded tip of the Baja California Peninsula on Tuesday.
With maximum sustained winds at near 110 kph (70 mph), Henriette has been lashing the western coast of Mexico, causing flooding and landslides that killed six in Acapulco. Three were killed when a giant boulder fell on their home, and three more died when a landslide slammed into their house.
At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), the storm was centered about 360 kilometers (225 miles) south-southeast of the tip of the peninsula, pushing waves up to 22 feet high as it moved northwest at about 19 kph (10 mph).
Rebecca Waddington, a meteorologist with the hurricane center, warned that both Felix and Henriette could shift course and that people in the general areas should remain alert even if they aren't in the storms' direct paths.
«Even if the forecast is perfect, that's only forecasting where the center of the storm is going to go,» she said. «So everyone in the area needs to be aware of it.
Associated Press Writers John Pain in Miami and Olga Rodriguez in Belize City contributed to this report.
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