Hurricane Mitch could spare Honduras and slam into Yucatan
Powerful thunderstorms were drenching Honduras' northernmost islands and more rain was expected over the next several hours as Mitch slowed down in its forward movement, the Honduran weather service said late Monday.
While the hurricane appeared to be sparing Honduras as it headed toward Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and Belize, the service did not rule out the possibility it might change course toward the Honduran coastline.
A hurricane warning remained in effect for the entire Honduran coast and for the uninhabited Swan Islands (Honduras), over which the center of the storm passed late Monday.
A hurricane watch was in effect for the Cayman Islands, Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula south of Cabo Catoche (its northernmost point).
At 0600 GMT, the center of Hurricane Mitch was just west of Swan Islands and 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the Honduran coast, according to the US National Weather Service in Miami.
The hurricane, a maximum category five storm on the Saffir/Simpson hurricane scale, was moving west-northwest at near 13 kilometers (eight miles) an hour.
Hurricane-force winds extend 95 kilometers (60 miles) from the center, while tropical storm force winds (below 74 kilometers - 46 miles - per hour) extend 280 kilometers (175 miles).
Honduras on Monday evacuated some of the 45,000 people on the Bahia Islands, off the country's Caribbean coast, as all army, air force and naval resources were on standby to help if Mitch should make landfall.
Over 10,000 people died in 1972 when Hurricane Fifi, a far weaker category-two hurricane, hit Honduras.
Honduran President Carlos Flores announced Monday that the United States was sending a team of experts to help the Honduran government with rescue and recovery missions.
The US embassy in Honduras advised its residents and tourists along the country's Caribbean coast to stock up on food, water, clothes, matches and other necessities.
Tegucigalpa Mayor Cesar Castellanos said municipal authorities were gearing up to evacuate the thousands of people living on riverbanks and mudslide zones.
On Monday, people began leaving Puerto Cortes, 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of the capital, and nearby San Pedro Sula on the Chamelecon River.
Belize and Guatemala have also declared red alerts for their populations as heavy rainfalls heralded Mitch's approach.
"The government (of Belize) has declared a red alert and prohibited navigation in the Caribbean sea (and) has asked the inhabitants of some 300 islands and islets to head to firm ground," journalist Medardo Rodriguez told AFP.
But the country's international airport, schools and workplaces were still operating normally.
The Guatemalan agency for coordinating disaster measures, CONRED, recommended that all boats stay in port, urged people to stockpile food and water and to seek shelter, and warned that rivers could burst their banks.
It put all emergency services -- private and public -- on alert for the next 48 hours, and urged drivers to look out for cracks in roads and highways.
Hurricane Mitch began to lay waste to the Caribbean and parts of Central America even before being upgraded from tropical storm status.
Last week, it indirectly killed two people
in Nicaragua and three in Costa Rica, also causing substantial damage in
In Panama, heavy rains from the storm caused flooding in the predominantly low-income province of Darien, which borders Colombia, leaving food supplies depleted and over 6,000 people homeless.
On Sunday, Mitch, then a category four hurricane, generated raindrops the size of bullets over Jamaica, knocked down trees in Kingston and prompted landslides that blocked roads.
Mitch comes several weeks after Hurricane Georges, which hit the Caribbean and US Gulf Coast in late September and early October. Georges killed more than 500 people in the Caribbean and United States.
Copyright (c) 1998 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEDGE/LAN: 27/10/98 09:23
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