Keith Pounds Belize - All Day Long
Hurricane Keith weakened on Monday but continued to wreak havoc in Belize, where fierce winds toppled homes and ripped the roofs off hotels. As the storm swirled off the country's Caribbean coast with 75-mph winds, torrential rains caused streets to fill with up to 11 inches of water, and officials warned coastal residents to move inland.
Flooding associated with Keith caused two deaths elsewhere in Central America, but Belize suffered the brunt of the storm's wrath. Winds ripped the roofs off two hotels, forcing people to seek shelter elsewhere. Large parts of the country were without power or telephone service.
Keith was nearly stalled about 35 miles northeast of Belize City throughout much of the day. It weakened considerably since peaking as a Category 4 storm packing 135-mph winds on Sunday. Still, forecasters said that Keith could cause a lot more damage because more flooding is expected.
"Heavy rains are currently affecting portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize," said a statement by the National Weather Service. "These rains could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides. Due to the slow motion of the hurricane, additional, devastating rainfall accumulations in the vicinity of Keith could easily exceed 15 to 20 inches."
A hurricane warning remains in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize from Cabo Catoche southward to Monkey River Town. A hurricane watch remains in effect for the north coast of Yucatan from west of Cabo Catoche to Progreso.
At 1 p.m. CDT, Keith's center was located about 30 miles east-northeast of Belize City.
Forecasters also said they have received reports that winds have sucked water out of the Bay of Chetumal, allowing people to walk across it. ''This is an extremely dangerous situation because the bay water can rapidly return. This is a potentially deadly situation so take precautionary action now to save your life,'' the National Weather Service warned.
Forecasters said that storm surge flooding of between 9 and 12 feet above normal tide levels and battering waves likely have occurred over parts of the hurricane warning area.
Sunday, residents said winds of up to 115 mph lashed shore dwellings in Belize, toppling trees and telephone poles. The chief port and largest city, Belize City, was flooded and without power. Belize is nestled between Mexico and Guatemala.
Keith, the seventh named hurricane of the Atlantic season, also is pounding southeastern Mexico, where officials declared an alert and evacuated 5,000 people from low-lying areas in Chetumal, a city of 250,000 people on Mexico's border with Belize.
Sunday night, all of Chetumal's shops and restaurants were boarded up, and the streets were vacant. Disaster officials said 30 shelters have been set up in schools to house people living in low-lying areas around the Bay of Chetumal.
Mexico's Format 21 news radio station said emergency officials made contact with 49 stranded people who were riding out the storm on Cayo Centro, a small cay off the Yucatan coast in the Chinch reef.
In Nicaragua, strong rains are inundating the western side of the country. Officials declared a red alert on the Pacific coast and evacuated 632 people in central and western departments. Nicaragua's National Emergency Committee reported the death of a 16-year-old youth pulled by strong torrents into a river Saturday 60 miles northeast of the capital, Managua. Another death occurred in El Salvador, where a man drowned in a river.
Officials in Nicaragua and Guatemala compare the storm's relentless rains to those of Hurricane Mitch, the huge 1998 storm that devastated the region with floods that killed up to 10,000 people.
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