Earl downgraded to tropical storm after drenching Belize


BELMOPAN, Belize (AP) — Hurricane Earl deteriorated into a weak tropical storm Thursday as it passed over northern Guatemala en route to southern Mexico.

Overnight, Earl slammed into the coast of the Caribbean nation of Belize with winds of 80 mph (130 kph), leaving the country battered, with some flooding reported.

Earl made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Belize City and was moving roughly westward, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. As it crossed northern Guatemala and entered southern Mexico, Earl had sustained winds near 40 mph (65 kph). It was expected to continue weakening to a tropical depression Thursday night.

The National Hurricane Center forecast that the storm would leave 8 to 12 inches (up to 30 centimeters) of rain over parts of Belize, Guatemala and southern Mexico. Isolated areas could receive as much as 18 inches (45 centimeters), causing flooding and mudslides.

Much of Belize was without electricity Thursday morning as residents began assessing the damage. Around the capital, some roofs were torn off, power lines were down and trees were uprooted. The rain continued and there was localized flooding.

There was still some phone service, but television and radio stations were largely off the air.

The country’s emergency management agency issued a statement declaring the “all clear” on the storm, but warned people near rivers to head to higher ground. It said all of the country’s dams were at flood stage.

The statement said there was major infrastructure damage in the offshore cayes, as well as in Belize City and Belmopan. It expected the international airport in Belize City to reopen Thursday.

Mexico discontinued all warnings associated with the storm and Belize replaced its hurricane warning with a tropical storm warning. The storm was centered about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of the Gulf coast city of Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico and was moving west near 10 mph (17 kph).

Authorities in the Mexican coastal state of Quintana Roo, to the north of the hurricane’s strike, reported some evacuations. Some people evacuated low-lying coastal areas in nearby Guatemala.

The hurricane center said heavy rains would be a danger in southern Mexico through Saturday as Earl crosses the Yucatan Peninsula into the states of Tabasco and Veracruz.

On Wednesday, Earl raked the northern coast of Honduras with heavy rain. Officials said a big wave capsized a lobster fishing boat in the Caribbean, but all but two of the 83 people on board were rescued. The navy was looking for the two missing. Authorities also rescued four families in the coastal city of Trujillo after a river flooded.

Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras’ emergency commission, said there were reports of large numbers of trees and utility poles being knocked down. Schools and universities closed across Honduras’ coastal provinces, as did two commercial airports.

In Belize, the government opened storm shelters and used radio and television broadcasts to urge residents of low-lying areas to move to higher ground. Officials also ordered the international airport in Belize City to close.

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