Hurricane Earl batters Belize with high winds and heavy rain

Hurricane Earl has slammed into the coast of the Caribbean nation of Belize with winds of 80mph, bringing with it heavy rain.

The hurricane made landfall near Belize City, and was moving roughly westward, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

While Earl is expected to weaken as it moves inland, it threatens neighbouring Guatemala and southern Mexico with torrential rains.

Hotels along Belize's coast and the low-lying islands offshore had already pulled in awnings and beach chairs as the rains from the category-1 storm began whipping the coast on Wednesday evening.

Authorities in the Mexican coastal state of Quintana Roo, to the north of the hurricane's predicted path, reported some evacuations and prepared shelters in case of flooding. Some people evacuated low-lying coastal areas in nearby Guatemala.

The hurricane centre said heavy rains would be a danger in southern Mexico through until Saturday as Earl crosses the Yucatan Peninsula and the states of Tabasco and Veracruz.

On Wednesday, Earl hit the northern coast of Honduras with heavy rain.

Officials said a big wave capsized a lobster fishing boat in the Caribbean, but all but two of the 83 people on board were rescued. The navy was looking for the two missing. Authorities also rescued four families in the coastal city of Trujillo after a river flooded.

Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' emergency commission, said there were reports of large numbers of trees and utility poles being knocked down. Schools and universities closed across Honduras' coastal provinces, as did two commercial airports.

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.

Officials also ordered the international airport in Belize City to close, and archaeological reserves and national parks were shut. The Belize Tourism Board announced that cruise ship calls had been cancelled for this week.

Employees of the Caribbean Villas Hotel, in San Pedro on Belize's Ambergris Caye, pulled in beach chairs and chaise longues as rain began to fall on the popular beach resort.

"Anything that's not anchored in, we've pulled back and out of the way," said hotel manager Paul Jewitt.

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