Felix becomes Category 5 hurricane, heads toward Central America


ORANJESTAD, Aruba

Felix rapidly strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 Hurricane and churned through the Caribbean Sea on a path toward Central America, where forecasters said it could make landfall as “potentially catastrophic” storm.

Felix was packing winds of up to 270 kph (165 mph) as it headed west, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was projected to skirt Honduras’ coastline on Tuesday before slamming into Belize on Wednesday.

A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Honduras, where authorities were keeping a close eye on the storm but had not begun any evacuations. Along the northern coastline, hoteliers said, tourists were still lounging by the pool and enjoying the sun.

In Belize, residents stocked up on water and food, and nailed boards over windows to protect against the hurricane’s howling winds. Many who lived in low-lying areas were seeking higher ground.

On Sunday, Felix toppled trees and flooded some homes on the Dutch islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire in the southern Caribbean. Heavy rains and winds caused scattered power outages and forced thousands of tourists to take refuge in hotels, but residents expressed relief it did far less damage than feared as the storm’s outer bands grazed the tiny islands.

“Thankfully we didn’t get a very bad storm. My dog slept peacefully through the night,” said Bonaire medical administrator Siomara Albertus, who waited out the storm in her home with her Labrador retriever.

Many Bonaire residents prepared for the worst, installing storm shutters and hauling their boats ashore, but winds from Felix’s outer bands left little damage. In Curacao, several homes in a low-lying area were flooded.

In Aruba, there was also little visible damage, although at least one catamaran snapped off its mooring, a house was damaged by a downed tree and power was temporarily knocked out in a northern town.

Felix is the second Atlantic hurricane of the season following last month’s Hurricane Dean, which killed at least 20 in the Caribbean and carved out a destructive swath stretching from St. Lucia to Mexico.

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), Felix was centered about 550 kilometers (345 miles) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and was heading west at about 33 kph (24 mph), the hurricane center said.

On Saturday, Felix brought heavy rains and strong winds to Grenada as a tropical storm, ripping roofs off at least two homes and destroying a popular concert venue. No injuries were reported.

Tropical storm watches were issued for Grand Cayman and Jamaica, which was battered by Dean on Aug. 19. A watch means tropical storm conditions could begin affecting the island within 36 hours.

“Remember that Hurricanes Mitch, Wilma and Michelle passed far from the island yet tropical storm force winds, waves and storm surge damaged coastal areas,” said Barbara Carby, director of the Cayman hazard management office.

Off the Pacific coast of Mexico, meanwhile, forecasters said Tropical Storm Henriette could strengthen to a hurricane by Monday, and officials issued a hurricane watch for the resort-studded tip of the Baja California peninsula, a vacation area popular with Hollywood stars and sea fishing enthusiasts.

Henriette dumped heavy rain on western Mexico. In the resort city of Acapulco, three people were killed when a giant boulder fell on their home, and three more died when a landslide slammed into their house.

Rebecca Waddington, a meteorologist with the hurricane center, warned that both Felix and Henriette could shift course and said people in the general areas should remain alert even if they aren’t in the storms’ direct paths.

“Even if the forecast is perfect, that’s only forecasting where the center of the storm is going to go,” she said. “So everyone in the area needs to be aware of it, because the storms are quite large.”