June 27, 2010 / 6:37 AM / 9 years ago

Tropical Storm Alex makes landfall in Belize

* Storm no threat to BP spill containment efforts - USCG

* Alex over Belize, will dump rain on peninsula

* Storm expected to hit Mexico near Tampico mid-week

By Gerardo Garcia

CHETUMAL, Mexico, June 27 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Alex weakened slightly after it made landfall in Belize, but the storm continued to produce gusting winds and heavy rain, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Sunday.

The storm was not an imminent threat to oil-siphoning efforts at BP Plc’s (BP.L) (BP.N) blown-out Macondo well in the Gulf, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Current forecasts project Alex will emerge in the southern Gulf of Mexico on Sunday and make landfall again as a minimal hurricane later in the week between Brownsville, Texas, and Tuxpan de Rodriguez Cano, Mexico, sparing BP spill collection efforts.

Alex, the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, had sustained winds of near 40 miles per hour (65 km per hour) and was located about 55 miles (90 km) southwest of Chetumal, Mexico.

The storm was expected to ease its pace as it moved over Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula overnight, the Miami-based center said at 2 a.m. EDT/0600 GMT.

In Chetumal, the capital of the state of Quintana Roo across the border with Belize, streets emptied in anticipation of the heavy rains and strong winds expected on Sunday.

On Saturday, Quintana Roo state authorities evacuated 200 people from fishing villages across the Chinchorro reef, near Belize, and Xcalak, famous for its diving spots.

Some rain fell over Cancun, a major seaside resort that draws U.S. and European visitors, but there was no threat to some 35,000 tourists in the area, civil protection said.

Alex was moving west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) but its speed should decrease as it moves over land.

“Strengthening is forecast on Sunday night and Monday after Alex moves over the southern Gulf of Mexico,” the center said.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the coast of Belize and the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula from Chetumal to Cancun. The hurricane center said the warning would likely be lifted later on Sunday.

But tropical storm-force winds were still occurring off the east coast of Belize from near Belize City northeast to Ambergris Cay and Cayo Norte, Mexico, according to the center.

Alex was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of rain to the Yucatan Peninsula, southern Mexico, northern Guatemala, Honduras and Belize through Monday morning. Isolated amounts of up to 15 inches (38 cm) were possible over mountainous areas.

“These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” according to the center.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and meteorologists predict this year will be a very active one. Hurricanes feed on warm water and the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are higher than usual this year.

In the Pacific, hurricanes Darby and Celia weakened to tropical storms as they continued to dissipate. (Additional reporting by Jose Cortazar in Cancun and Cyntia Barrera Diaz in Mexico City)

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