Belize City: Tropical Storm Alex headed overland toward the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday, drenching Belize, northern Guatemala and Mexico`s Yucatan Peninsula with torrential rains.
Meteorologists project Alex, which made landfall on Belize`s coast late Saturday, will weaken as it passes over the Yucatan Peninsula but will regain strength once it emerges Sunday evening 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 the region where a deep-sea oil spill is slicking the US coastline.
Hundreds of tourists and residents fled low-lying islands off Belize on Saturday as Alex swept in with torrential downpours and winds of 60 mph (95 kph). Many stocked up on gasoline, water, canned food and other emergency supplies.
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 fishermen 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 the millions of gallons of crude spilled in the Gulf — and on efforts to clean up the slick and cap the leak deep below the waves.
A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well and it is carrying some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected. Some of the oil is being brought to the surface and burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August, and are the best hope to stop the leak.