CANCUN, Mexico (AP) — Hundreds of tourists evacuated beach resorts along Mexico’s Caribbean coast as Hurricane Ernesto headed toward a Tuesday night landfall near Mexico’s border with Belize, bringing the threat of powerful winds and torrential rains.
Ernesto strengthened from a tropical storm earlier in the day, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it had winds of 80 mph (129 kph) by late afternoon and was moving west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph). It was centered about 140 miles (225 kilometers) east of Chetumal, Mexico.
Authorities in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo were moving more than 1,300 tourists from resorts in Mahuahal and other spots to Chetumal, a bayside city that was expected to see less rain and wind than the coast. Two cruises ships scheduled to dock on the Riviera Maya put off their arrival.
In the city of Tulum, some 6,000 tourists were sheltering in hotels that authorities said were strong enough to qualify as storm shelters. Authorities also prepared two kindergartens as shelters that can hold up to 220 people.
Soldiers and police were moving 600 residents from the fishing village of Punta Allen in Quintana Roo, where authorities opened emergency shelters and began preparing for the evacuation of residents from other low-lying coastal settlements.
The heart of the storm was expected to hit south of the resort areas of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, though strong rain and winds were likely. Officials prepared shelters as a precaution.
The storm that entered the Caribbean on Saturday was driving through the sea parallel to the Honduran coast, though officials there said the threat had passed without any damage or injuries.
Forecasters said that after moving ashore during the night, Ernesto was expected to take about 24 hours to cross Yucatan and enter the southern Gulf of Mexico. Its predicted course would then take it to Mexico’s Gulf coast near the city of Veracruz.
Mexican authorities warned of possible flooding in a region where swollen rivers in the past have swept away houses, livestock and people and collapsed mountainsides. In a landslide last year, 31 people were buried in the Chiapas state town of Juan del Grijalva.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the entire coast of Belize and much of Mexico’s Caribbean Yucatan coast. Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Yucatan coast from Cozumel to Cancun.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Gilma formed in the Pacific Ocean about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Manzanillo, Mexico, with winds of 40 mph (64 kph). The storm was not expected to threaten land.
Associated Press writers Antonio Villegas in Tabasco, Mexico; Alberto Arce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and Luis Galeano in Managua, Nicaragua, contributed to this report.