TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Tropical Storm Ernesto swirled along Honduras' northern coast early Tuesday, bringing the threat of torrential rains as it headed toward landfall as a possible hurricane near Mexico's border with Belize.
Nicaraguan authorities moved some people from low-lying areas, while Honduran officials urged people along its Caribbean coast to stay alert.
With Ernesto predicted to stay at sea while passing along Honduras' northern coast during the day, Honduran authorities were monitoring the storm but there were no immediate plans to evacuate people, Roberto Diaz, operations chief of the country's Contingencies Commission, said Monday night.
"We don't think is necessary to evacuate people at this point," Diaz said. "We don't want to create collective panic ... and we think that ordering an evacuation would create hysteria that would affect the population more than the storm itself."
Authorities sent enough food packages to the sparsely populated area to feed 600 families for two weeks, Diaz said.
On Tuesday morning, Ernesto was centered about 180 miles (285 kilometers) northeast of Honduras' Roatan island, a tourist haven, and 250 miles (405 kilometers) east of Belize City. The storm had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph (100 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).
Rain began falling Monday night and the region between Cabo Gracias a Dios and the city of Trujillo already had received about one inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain, Diaz said.
Officials in Nicaragua evacuated hundreds of people living along the coast and near the border with Honduras, Guillermo Gonzalez, who is in charge of the country's emergency services, told local television.
Ernesto could drop up to five inches (13 centimeters) of rain along Honduras' coast and the northeastern shores of Nicaragua, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
After passing Honduras, the storm was expected to grow to hurricane force before moving ashore near the Belize-Mexico border early Wednesday, passing near the jungle Mayan ruins of Calakmul and eventually entering the southern Gulf of Mexico and hitting the Gulf coast near the city of Veracruz.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the entire coast of Belize and the southern half of Mexico's Caribbean Yucatan coast.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Honduras coast and for the northern part of the Yucatan coast up to Cancun.
Mexican authorities warned of possible flooding in an area where swollen rivers in the past have swept away houses, livestock and people and collapsed mountainsides. In a landslide last year, 31 people were buried in the Chiapas state town of Juan del Grijalva.
A new tropical depression formed well off Mexico's Pacific coast as well, but the National Hurricane Center said it was not likely to threaten land.
Associated Press writers Antonio Villegas in Tabasco, Mexico, and Luis Galeano in Mangua, Nicaragua, contributed to this report.