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Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Aug 8, 2012
Hurricane Ernesto made landfall late Tuesday in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula after churning across the Caribbean Sea and drenching the coasts of Honduras and Belize, forecasters said.
Ernesto -- a category one on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale -- struck land near the town of Mahahual in Mexico's Quintana Roo state, the US National Hurricane Center said, citing radar data from Belize.
The storm -- the second hurricane of the Atlantic season -- was packing maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometers (85 miles) per hour and was moving west at a speed of 24 kph, the Miami-based center said in a bulletin.
The Yucatan peninsula is home to bustling holiday destinations such as the resort city of Cancun and the island of Cozumel, but authorities in Quintana Roo state noted that there were few tourists in the area where the storm hit.
Nevertheless, state tourism secretary Juan Carlos Gonzalez said more than 200 emergency shelters had been set up to accommodate more than 80,000 people if necessary.
Mexico's defense ministry said it had mobilized about 1,000 soldiers to remain on alert in the area.
Hurricane warnings were in place along the entire coast of Belize and up the east coast of the Yucatan in Mexico as far as Cancun and Cozumel.
The storm, which began drenching Caribbean countries last week, was bringing high winds and heavy rain. In mountainous areas of Honduras, a total of up to eight inches (20 centimeters) of rainfall was possible, the NHC warned.
"These rains may produce life threatening flash floods and mudslides over higher terrain," the NHC added.
This is the second hurricane, and the fifth named storm, in the Atlantic Ocean since the season began on June 1.
Chris, which strengthened to hurricane force on June 21, stayed far off land, and vanished without causing any damage.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a "less active season, compared to recent years."
The agency predicts there could be between nine and 15 tropical storms before the season ends in November, of which around half could become hurricanes.
The forecasters predict just a handful will become more powerful -- and dangerous -- category three or higher storms.
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