After Swamping Central America, Keith Strengthening in the Gulf
As Belizians start to mop up from Keith - which struck the nation as a hurricane but dwindled into a tropical depression - forecasters warn that the system once again is strengthening. Keith, which is swirling in the Gulf of Mexico after drowning parts of Central America in up to 30 inches of rain and killing 11 people, is expected to return to tropical storm status later today.
"All interests in the Gulf of Mexico should monitor the progress of this system," the National Hurricane Center advised.
AT 4 a.m. CDT, Keith's center was located about 95 miles west of Campeche, Mexico, and moving toward the west-northwest at near 10 mph. Maximum sustained winds had dropped to 35 mph with higher gusts.
Despite its weakened state, Keith, once considered one of the fiercest storms of the year with 135-mph winds, continues to dump heavy rains on portions of the Isthmus Tehuantepec and still threatens Mexico with life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
Meanwhile in Belize, a curfew is in place to stop looting in the wake of the storm, and parts of the country have been declared disaster areas. Responding to appeals for help, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has sent a ground operations team, assembled from Miami and Costa Rica, to Belize City to assess damages that local officials say will cost millions to repair. The American Red Cross also has sent a team to help assess damages in the hurricane-ravaged nation.
Though Keith, a potentially devastating Category 4 hurricane at its peak, was downgraded to a tropical depression on Tuesday, the death toll rose to 11 with 10 dead in Nicaragua and one in Belize.
Some 30 inches of rain fell in the former British colony since last Friday and heavy winds snapped power lines, ripped off roofs, tore wings and tails off small planes and sunk boats. Government officials announced Tuesday that emergency planes had flown food, medicine and other relief supplies to the battered islands.
A seven-member USAID team also is carrying emergency supplies for 1,000 people, including blankets, plastic sheeting, water jugs and some medicines. It was not clear when the team would be able to reach Belize City, the main port and largest town, with 60,000 inhabitants.
Britain, Taiwan, the International Red Cross and others also have offered to help the tiny nation. Two British naval vessels, HMS Cardiff and RFA Black Rover, are expected to arrive on Thursday or Friday to help relief efforts.
Belize, which has a population of 250,000, lies between Mexico and Guatemala. Its history has been scarred by hurricanes, including a powerful storm in 1961 that resulted in the capital being moved inland from Belize City to Belmopan.
Belize authorities said the hardest-hit areas were San Pedro, a tourist resort on Ambergris Cay, and Cay Caulker, a tiny island 19 miles (31 km) east of Belize City. Officials said the weather is now calm enough to send boats out to pick up tourists who want to leave the storm-torn areas.
In Guatemala, the government has declared a red alert in the municipality of Melchor de Mencos on the Belize border. Many communities have been cut off and officials fear a bridge linking Guatemala to Belize could soon collapse due to mounting debris.
In Nicaragua, where officials recalled the devastating passage in 1998 of Hurricane Mitch that killed 10,000 in Central America, authorities have declared a state of emergency and said up to 10 people died in the nation's northwest. Around 2,800 people were evacuated from their homes, President Arnoldo Aleman told local radio.
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