Tropical Storm Alex heads toward the Gulf of Mexico

Tropical Storm Alex is on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Alex has already forced hundreds to leave resort islands.

File photo from June 25, 2010 showing a large area of clouds (far left) in the western Caribbean Sea which became Tropical Storm Alex on June 26, 2010. Forecasters are also watching a second area of cloudiness and showers (far right) east of the Leeward Islands for tropical development. Potentially dangerous Tropical Storm Alex has formed in the Caribbean Sea, US weather experts said June 26, 2010.

Tropical Storm Alex headed toward the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, but not before drenching Belize, northern Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula with torrential rains and forcing hundreds of tourists to flee resort islands.

Meteorologists project Alex, which hit Belize's coast late Saturday, will weaken as it passes over the Yucatan Peninsula but will regain strength once it emerges Sunday afternoon over the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters could fuel its growth into a hurricane.

According to the most recent predictions, Alex is expected to make a second landfall midweek on the Mexican Gulf coast — far south and west of where a deep-sea oil spill is slicking the U.S. coastline.

Hundreds of tourists and residents fled low-lying islands off Belize on Saturday as Alex swept in with torrential downpours. Winds were at 60 mph (95 kph) when the storm made landfall but decreased to about 40 mph (65 kph) by Sunday morning.

Belize officials opened storm shelters in the island tourist resort of San Pedro, as some 1,400 people fled for the mainland by plane and by boat.

Along Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coast, officials warned tourists to stay out of rough surf kicked up by the storm. But there were no immediate reports of damage to popular beach destinations such as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

State Public Safety director Miguel Ramos Real said 25 fisherman were evacuated and 17 navy personnel were brought to the mainland from a base on Banco Chinchorro, an atoll off the Mexican coast. Three shelters were opened, and ports were closed to small craft.

Now all eyes turn to the Gulf of Mexico.

When Alex became the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, officials immediately worried what effect it could have on efforts to contain the millions of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf.

A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well, directing some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected or burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August, which are considered the best hope to stop the leak.

For the time being, the storm appears likely to miss the oil-slicked region and make landfall in Mexico, somewhere near the border of Tamaulipas and Veracruz states — but meteorologists warned that a storm's track can quickly change.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sunday that Alex was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Chetumal, Mexico, traveling west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Meanwhile in the Pacific, two storms were far offshore and did not pose an immediate threat to land.

Once-powerful Celia weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph), the hurricane center said. The storm should fall apart by Sunday.

Darby, which was also a powerful hurricane, has also weakened to a tropical storm. Its center is about 310 miles (500 kilometers) south-southwest of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.


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