By Isela Serrano
CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Rina closed in on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday, threatening beach resorts like Cancun with heavy rain and dangerous waves but steering clear of oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico.
The hurricane largely avoided the coffee and sugar producing nations of Central America, which are still recovering from weeks of heavy rains that destroyed roads to farms and ruined some crops.
Rina, now a Category Two hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale packing winds of 105 mph, is expected to strengthen even further to become a major hurricane.
Authorities in the city of Cancun were preparing 50 shelters ahead of the storm, which is expected to make landfall on Thursday morning.
Some worried residents cleared out store shelves of emergency supplies like water and canned tuna in case businesses decide to shut down.
The storm could slam into other tourist hubs like Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, popular with scuba divers and cruise ships on the Yucatan Peninsula, and will also graze the small Central American nation of Belize.
Belize issued a tropical storm watch along its coastline north of Belize City.
Authorities also issued a hurricane watch for the east coast of the peninsula from north of Punta Gruesa to Cancun, and a storm warning from Chetumal to Punta Gruesa.
Rina, the sixth hurricane in the Atlantic this year, was located 280 miles east southeast of Chetumal, Mexico on Tuesday afternoon.
"Strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," the Miami-based hurricane center said. "And Rina is expected to become a major hurricane by tonight."
Major hurricanes are Category 3 or higher. They reach that level when sustained winds hit 111 miles per hour.
The hurricane could dump 8 to 16 inches of rain over the eastern Yucatan peninsula from Wednesday morning, "making outside preparations difficult or dangerous," the center said.
A huge storm surge is also possible, raising the tide level as much as 7 feet above normal levels along the coast.
Concerns about more rain in the region has helped support coffee prices in recent days but Honduras, Central America's largest coffee producer, was only brushed by Rina and coffee-growing areas were largely spared.
(Writing by Mica Rosenberg and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Eric Walsh)