BELMOPAN, Belize (AP) — Tropical Storm Earl neared hurricane force Wednesday as it bore down on the Bay Islands of Honduras and the Caribbean nation of Belize.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that Earl was threatening to bring heavy rains, flooding and high winds to Mexico, Belize and Honduras, and was likely to blow past Honduras' Roatan Island, a popular tourist destination, on Wednesday afternoon.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez ordered classes canceled in seven Atlantic provinces, and the head of the country's emergency commission warned of torrential rains, particularly along the northern coast.
In Belize, the government opened storm shelters and used radio and television broadcasts to urge residents of low-lying areas to move to higher ground. The shelters were still empty on Wednesday morning, however.
Officials also ordered the international airport in Belize City to close, as well as archaeological reserves and national parks. The Belize Tourism Board announced that cruise ship calls have been canceled for this week.
The government's chief meteorologist Dennis Gonguez, said the storm should begin affecting the country around 6 p.m. local time and will likely make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane.
Long lines of traffic formed at gas stations around the country as residents filled their tanks in advance of Earl's arrival. Stores were also busy with people buying water and food.
At The Palms Oceanfront Suites in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Ana Ico said the hotel began preparing two days ago and gave guests the option to evacuate to the mainland or stay at the hotel. About 12 guests have chosen to stay, Ico said.
"Some of them have decided to stay so what we're doing is we're giving them some water, flashlights and informing them as we get updated on the storm," she said. Other guests chose to move to the mainland.
Belize, Mexico and Honduras issued tropical storm warnings for some areas, and a hurricane warning was issued for part of Mexico.
The airport on diving destination Roatan off the coast of Honduras closed its airport Wednesday as heavy rains moved in.
On Sunday, Earl was a weaker tropical wave but knocked down power lines and started a fire that killed six passengers on a bus in the Dominican Republic.
Late Wednesday morning, the storm was centered about 120 miles (195 kilometers) east of Roatan, with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph (110 kph) and was moving west near 14 mph (22 kph).
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.