Ernesto takes aim at Mexico's Yucatan

2012-08-07 11:07

Tegucigalpa - Tropical Storm Ernesto picked up speed in the western Caribbean on Monday as it moved toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, dousing Honduras and Belize on its way.

US forecasters said Ernesto had top sustained winds of 100km/h on Monday afternoon and could cross the 119km/h threshold to become a hurricane by Tuesday morning.

Hurricane warnings were issued for part of the Yucatan's east coast and the entire coast of Belize. Tropical storm watches and warnings were in effect for other parts of the Yucatan, Honduras and the Bay Islands.

Ernesto was centred about 475km east of Honduras' Roatan Island and was moving west-northwest at 19km/h, according to the National Hurricane Centre's 20:00 EST advisory.

Heavy rains fell over coastal regions in Honduras, including Colon, Islas de la Bahia, Gracias a Dios and Atlantida.

As a precaution, Honduran authorities ordered fishing boats to return to the port of Cortes. The NHC said rainfall of about 7.6cm to 12.7cm was likely along the northern coast of Honduras and north-eastern Nicaragua, with up to 20cm possible.

Celebrations despite rain

The government of Belize declared a state of alert and urged residents on vulnerable islands to move inland and those in flood-prone areas to seek shelter. Residents reported only light rain so far.

"On the forecast track, the centre will be passing north of the coast of Honduras tonight and [on] Tuesday and be near the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula early [on] Wednesday," forecasters at the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said on Monday.

Ernesto's outer bands brought winds and rain to Jamaica as it passed south of the island on Sunday, but the storm failed to dampen street celebrations there for sprinter Usain Bolt's victory in the 100m track final at the Olympics Games.

Heavy rains also lashed Hispaniola and Puerto Rico on Sunday.

The forecasters expect Ernesto to move into the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico by Thursday, but it was too early to know if it could disrupt oil and gas operations in the gulf.

To the east, Florence, the sixth named storm of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, dissipated into a remnant low pressure area over the open Atlantic on Monday. It was about midway between the coast of Africa and the Leeward Islands and never threatened land.

August and September are usually the most active months of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from 1 June to 30 November.