Hurricane Richard sputters over Belize, heads toward Mexico

Hurricane Richard did no major damage to Belize as it weakened into a tropical storm. It is moving into southeastern Mexico.

A NASA satellite photo shows Hurricane Richard as a Category 1 hurricane (now a tropical storm) at 12:31 a.m. EDT Monday Oct. 25, when it passed over Belize.

Hurricane Richard was downgraded to a tropical storm Monday as it moved across northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico after battering Belize.

The storm was expected to further weaken to a tropical depression before it enters Mexico's Bay of Campeche on Monday night or early Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The bay produces more than two-thirds of Mexico's 2.6 million barrels-per-day of crude output.

The storm, packing maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour, was centered about 170 miles southeast of Campeche, Mexico, at 4 a.m. CDT. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph.

The storm would likely not strengthen again once it enters the Gulf of Mexico at the Bay of Campeche, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

Mexico's state oil company, Pemex, said it was watching the storm but had not evacuated any workers from its offshore platforms. Vessels continued to service the platforms late into Sunday night, Pemex said.

"We're still operating normally and monitoring (the storm)," a Pemex spokesman said.

In September, Hurricane Karl forced a brief shutdown of 14 minor Mexican wells in the Gulf, with no significant impact on production.

Most computer forecasting models suggest the storm would steer clear of major oil installations in the U.S. Gulf.

Richard is expected to produce 3 to 6 inches of rain across northern Guatemala and the Mexican states of Quintana Roo and Campeche, the hurricane center said.

Richard made landfall on Sunday just south of Belize City, blowing roofs off houses and knocking out electricity as tourists and residents huddled in emergency shelters.

The government of Belize, an impoverished country of about 330,000 people, reported no injuries or deaths from the storm, which came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest rank on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.

It forced families to flee their houses and move into shelters along the coast, said Noreen Fairweather, coordinator of the country's emergency services organization.

She said no major damage had been reported beyond broken windows and roofs blown off a few poorly constructed homes.

"Our windows are shuttered so we can't see anything, but the wind is howling fiercely," said Myrna Harris, who moved all her guests and furniture to the second floor of the hotel she runs in Belize City.

Heavy winds doubled over palm trees on Belize's coast, webcam images showed, and residents called a local radio station to report power outages and plead for help as rivers quickly rose.

Before the storm touched land, hotels across southern Belize sent foreign travelers to inland shelters, the national tourism board said.

Belize, a former British colony, is a popular destination for foreign tourists who are drawn to its lush jungles, palm-fringed cays and coral reef.
Richard threatened to cause floods and mudslides as it crossed through northern Guatemala, though the head of the country's coffee growers' association said the coffee crop would probably not be affected.

Mexico evacuated residents from Mayan villages on the Yucatan peninsula where many of the poor live in thatched huts.

Richard knocked down trees and power lines on the islands off Honduras' north coast, whose white sandy beaches are popular with foreign tourists.
Honduras' coffee crop will likely not be affected by the storm, said Dagoberto Suazo, a board member of the country's national coffee institute.
Honduran authorities said electricity had been knocked out in some areas and mudslides had cut off dozens of villages.

"Thank God we don't have any serious damage or deaths or injuries," said Lizandro Rosales, head of Honduras' emergency services committee.

Richard was the 10th hurricane of the busy 2010 Atlantic storm season. Five of those hurricanes have been major, but the United States has escaped a significant landfall so far.

(Writing and additional reporting by Jason Lange in Mexico City; Further reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Robert Campbell in Mexico City and Sarah Grainger in Guatemala City; Editing by Eric Beech)
2010-10-25 10:02:14 GMT (Reuters)

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