Alex regains tropical storm status over Gulf of Mexico; could become hurricane

By Patrick E. Jones, AP
Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alex grows back into tropical storm over Gulf

BELIZE CITY — Alex strengthened back into a tropical storm as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico late Sunday after dumping heavy rains on parts of Central America and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that left four people dead.

Alex, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), was headed on a path that would take it to Mexico’s eastern coast around midweek. Its route was still well clear of the massive oil spill in the Gulf.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm will strengthen further over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and could become a hurricane within 48 hours.

Alex made landfall on the coast of Belize late Saturday as a tropical storm but weakened into a depression as it passed over land across the Yucatan Peninsula. It left land and entered the Gulf Sunday afternoon.

Earlier, Alex soaked parts of Central America and the Yucatan Peninsula with downpours, forcing hundreds of tourists to flee resort islands.

The hurricane center said rains will likely keep falling on southern Mexico and Guatemala until Tuesday and warned of life-threatening floods and mudslides.

The heavy rains prompted a landslide in northwestern Guatemala that dislodged a large rock outcropping, killing two men who had taken shelter from the storm underneath, according to the national disaster-response agency.

In El Salvador, Civil Protection chief Jorge Melendez said two people were swept away by rivers that jumped their banks. About 500 people were evacuated from their homes.

Authorities in both Guatemala and Belize were keeping an eye on rising river levels. One bridge in western Belize was swamped entirely, cutting off a remote Mennonite community. Seven homes in the Belize River Valley, outside Belize City, had their roofs blown off, and at least one structure collapsed.

Belize officials opened storm shelters in the island tourist resort of San Pedro, as 1,400 people fled for the mainland by plane and by boat.

But the country apparently avoided major damage, and emergency coordinator Noreen Fairweather said on national radio that there were no reports of injuries. People who took refuge in storm shelters were returning home.

“The weather came, but it was just normal rain, little gusts of wind and nothing much,” Belize City resident Miguel Chan told APTN. “We have had normal storms that were more heavier than this.”

There were no immediate reports of damage to Mexico’s resort-studded Caribbean coast.

Now all eyes are on 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 efforts to contain the millions of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf.

A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well, directing some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected or burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August.

For the time being, the storm appears likely to miss the oil-slicked region, but meteorologists warned that a storm’s track can quickly change.

Alex was centered about 470 miles (755 kms) east souteast of Tampico, Mexico, and was moving west-northwest near 7 mph (11 kph). The center said its rains could reach the Mexican states of Tamaulipas or Veracruz late Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, once-powerful hurricanes Celia and Darby weakened to tropical storms and did not pose a threat to land.

Associated Press writer Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun, Mexico, contributed to this report.

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