Washington: Tropical Storm Nate gained strength Friday as it barreled toward popular Mexican beach resorts and ultimately the US Gulf coast after dumping heavy rains on Central America that left at least 26 people dead.
Nate, which currently has 50 mile (85 kilometer) per hour winds, is forecast to reach hurricane strength by the time it makes landfall in the United States on Saturday, on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
New Orleans, where levees were breached during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and other cities on the US Gulf coast were under hurricane watch.
The US National Hurricane Center warned of possible "hurricane conditions" by Friday night on Mexico`s Yucatan Peninsula, home to Cancun and other Caribbean resorts.
By late Saturday, those fearsome winds could drive a "life-threatening storm surge" onto southern US states.
"Nate is expected to become a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico," the Center said.
As of Friday afternoon, the storm was located about 125 kilometers east of Cozumel, Mexico, a picturesque resort island.
It was still wreaking havoc in Central America, where Honduran officials ordered several coastal zones to evacuate as heavy rains continued causing floods.
Authorities in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador declared a maximum or red alert.On Thursday, intense rains from the storm forced thousands from their homes, uprooted trees, knocked out bridges and turned roads into rivers in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras.
"We were drowning. Thank God (emergency workers) helped us. The river swelled so much it swept away our house, our pigs, our chickens -- it swept away everything," said Bonavide Velazquez, 60, who was evacuated from her home in southern Nicaragua.
Nicaragua bore 12 of the deaths, according to Vice President Rosario Murillo.
In Costa Rica, where a national emergency was declared, nine people died, including a three-year-old girl, after they were hit by falling trees and mudslides. An alert was issued for people to be wary of crocodiles that might be roaming after rivers and estuaries flooded.
Three other people were killed in Honduras, and two in El Salvador.
More than 30 people are listed as missing across the region.
Nicaragua`s Murillo said 800 people had been evacuated, nearly 600 homes were flooded and 14 communities were isolated because of rains that had been falling for days.
More than 5,000 people were staying in shelters in Costa Rica after having to abandon their homes because of flooding and the risk of mudslides.
In the Gulf of Mexico, some offshore oil and gas rigs were evacuated ahead of the storm`s advance, the US government Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a statement.The United States is recovering from two major hurricanes: Harvey, which tore through Texas in August, and Irma in September.
Another powerful storm, Hurricane Maria, ripped through the Caribbean in late September, devastating several islands, including Dominica and Puerto Rico.
Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico and the southern United States suffer an Atlantic hurricane season every year that runs from June to November.
But 2017 is already one of the worst years on record.
The unstable weather brings heightened risk of flooding and mudslides in many poor Central American nations.
This year, some areas in Central America have gotten up to 50 percent more rain than average for September and October.
Costa Rica declared three days of mourning for those killed by Tropical Storm Nate, and President Luis Guillermo Solis warned that, although the storm had passed, it was too early to say the danger had gone.
"This situation is deceptive because it will rain this weekend and the ground is saturated, so landslides are possible," he said.