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Hurricane Richard pummels Belize after landfall

by Staff Writers
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Oct 25, 2010
Hurricane Richard pummeled the Central American nation of Belize with torrential rains and fierce winds early Monday after making landfall just south of low-lying Belize City.

Richard made landfall around 0045 GMT along the coast of Belize, about 35 kilometers (20 miles) south-southwest of Belize City, packing sustained winds of 150 kilometers (90 miles) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

Belize City is the largest city, with some 80,000 people, in the former British Honduras on Central America's Caribbean coast.

Until Sunday, it had not been hit directly by a hurricane in almost 50 years -- since 1961.

The category one storm was moving west-northwest at 17 kilometers (10 miles) per hour, according to the NHC. It was forecast to move across Belize and northern Guatemala early Monday, hitting southeastern Mexico later in the day or early Tuesday.

However, "steady weakening is expected as Richard moves further inland," the US center predicted.

It also warned earlier that a storm surge would raise water levels by as much as 3-5 feet (1-1.5 meters) above normal tide levels along the coast of Belize near and to the north of the center.

"Near the coast the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves," the NHC said.

In addition, Richard will unleash heavy rains that could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides especially in mountainous terrain, US forecasters pointed out.

The 17th named storm of the season, Richard is just the latest in what has become a long and especially destructive rainy season for Central America and southern Mexico.

Mudslides and floods have already killed more than 300 people in Central America this year, and left thousands more homeless.

Honduran officials said some 360 people were evacuated as a precaution from vulnerable areas in two of Honduras's Bay Islands -- Bahia and Trujillo -- on the country's northern Caribbean coast.

Honduras' disaster response agency, Copeco, said in a statement that the storm caused landslides cutting off road access to 40 coastal communities with 15,000 people, 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Tegucigalpa.

In the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Governor Felix Gonzalez declared the state capital of Chetumal on the highest state of alert with the hurricane's approach.

As part of the emergency measure, a state fair was canceled and alcohol sales were banned throughout the city.

But the tourist centers of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres on the northeastern tip of the peninsula were classed as facing minimal danger from the storm, Gonzalez said.

Mexico's National Meteorological Service said the states of Tabasco and Chiapas also could experience heavy rains and high seas as a result of the storm.

earlier related report
Hurricane Richard takes aim at Belize
Miami (AFP) Oct 24, 2010 - Hurricane Richard has formed in the Caribbean and is expected to strengthen further before crashing ashore later Sunday in Belize, US officials said.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Belize and parts of Honduras and watches were posted for parts of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as the storm churned toward land, packing sustained 85 mile (140 kilometer) per hour winds.

At 1500 GMT, it was centered about 95 miles (155 kilometers) east-southeast of Belize City and moving north-northwest at about 12 miles per hour (19 kilometers), the forecast said.

Winds "that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous" should be expected in the next 12 to 18 hours, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."

Richard, the 17th named storm of the season, is forecast to strengthen slightly before hitting Belize on Sunday evening and moving over land by Monday.

Flooding and landslides this year have killed more than 300 people in Central America, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage in recent months.

Mexico has also been hit hard by a series of storms in an unusually fierce hurricane season.

earlier related report
Megi downgraded to tropical depression
Beijing (AFP) Oct 24, 2010 - Torrential rain battered southwest China Sunday as Typhoon Megi was downgraded to a tropical depression after wreaking havoc in Taiwan and the Philippines.

Megi, the strongest storm to hit the northwest Pacific in two decades, killed 36 people in the Philippines last week and left 12 dead and two dozen missing in Taiwan as it edged towards China.

But it lost steam after making landfall in southwest China's Fujian province late Saturday night and China's state meteorological bureau downgraded it to a tropical depression early Sunday.

Torrential rains were expected in Fujian and neighbouring Zhejiang province throughout the day, the bureau said.

Taiwanese rescuers continued their search for 25 people left missing after Megi's heavy rains sparked widespread landslides along a coastal highway on the island.

Emergency workers over the weekend dug up nine bodies buried under the debris of a temple swamped by mudslides, while two more were found in houses and one in a port in northeastern Ilan county, the National Fire Agency said.

On Sunday, rescuers discovered the body of a woman at the site of a landside on the highway, a rescue official told reporters.

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