Hurricane Keith Strikes Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

Coastal residents of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and northeastern Belize fled their homes as the dangerous core of Hurricane Keith came ashore, bringing strong winds and torrential rain.

Heavy rain and flooding throughout Central America caused at least two deaths and forced hundreds to be evacuated. Scores abandoned their homes in coastal Mexico and houses were toppled in Belize.

The slow-moving storm lost strength Sunday evening as it drifted inland, with winds dropping to 115 mph (185 kph) from a high of 135 mph (215 kph). It was expected to further weaken today, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Flash Flood Fears

Forecasters warned of flash floods and mud slides as heavy rain fell throughout Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where a rain-swollen river swept away a 16-year-old boy Sunday. Officials there evacuated more than 300 people from low-lying areas.

In El Salvador, a 20-year-old man drowned in a river Saturday, officials said.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Keith was centered about 45 miles (70 kms) east of Belize City and about 70 miles (110 kms) south-southeast of Chetumal, Mexico. Its winds, which had topped 135 mph (216 kph), had dropped to 100 mph (160 kph) overnight.

Windy Cities

Hurricane warnings were in effect along the Yucatan peninsula’s eastern shore.

Keith’ s hurricane force winds extended up to 25 miles (35 kilometers) from the center, with tropical storm force winds extending 80 miles (130 kms).

The Belize villages of San Pedro and Caye Caulker were among the hardest hit, Red Cross officials said. Winds clocked at 120 mph (195 kph) blew roofs off homes and demolished makeshift shelters.

“The situation is pretty rough out there right now,” said William Skeen, director of the Red Cross in Belize City. “People really are in a frightened state at this time.”

Mexican authorities set up 300 shelters and evacuated 6,000 people from high-risk areas in the Chetumal region, about 190 miles (305 kilometers) south of Cancun.

Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Joyce weakened into a tropical depression on Sunday, dumping rain but doing little damage to Grenada and Tobago as it entered the Caribbean Sea.