Felix becomes Category 5 hurricane, heads toward Central America

Hurricane packs winds nearing 265 kph, projected to skirt Honduras' coastline on Tuesday before slamming into Belize on Wednesday.

Hurricane Felix rapidly strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 storm - the highest level - and churned through the Caribbean Sea on a path toward Central America, where forecasters said it could make landfall as a "potentially catastrophic" storm. Felix was packing sustained winds near 265 kph as it headed west, according to the US National Hurricane Center. It was projected to skirt Honduras' coastline on Tuesday before slamming into Belize on Wednesday. Honduras issued a hurricane warning for parts of the country, including sections of the border with Nicaragua, and a hurricane watch remained in effect for other areas and one was issued for parts of the Honduras-Guatemala border. 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 5 a.m. EDT Monday, Felix was centered about 440 kilometers south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and 790 kilometers east of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border. It was heading west at about 34 kph, 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. At 5 a.m. EDT, Henriette was 235 kilometers west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico and 450 kilometers south-southeast of the southern tip of Baja California. Its maximum sustained winds weakened slightly to near 105 kph. It was moving northwest at 14 kph. 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." She advised employees of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico to monitor Felix's progress and said it could reach the area in a few days.