Hurricane Earl has made landfall on the coast of Belize, bringing destructive winds and flooding rain.

With sustained winds of 120 kilometres per hour, Earl barely attained Category 1 status on the five point Saffir-Simpson scale. Gusts were around 150km/h.

Earl passed just to the north of Belize City at around 03:00 GMT on Thursday. A two-metre storm surge was expected.

Residents of Belize City and other coastal communities were advised to stay away from the coast and to seek refuge in storm shelters.

The international airport, archeological attractions and national parks were closed.

As much as 200mm of rain was expected to fall across the country with a few isolated totals of 400mm. This compares with an average rainfall total for the entire month of August of 170mm.

Large rainfall totals were also expected to affect northern Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

Earl is already weakening into a tropical storm and the weakening trend will continue as it tracks northwestwards towards the Bay of Campeche.

Mudslides, to which much of this region is prone, will be the main life-threatening hazard in the coming days.

The hurricane season runs from June to the end of November. Most Caribbean hurricanes during the early part of the season form within the Caribbean region.

Earl was an unusual hurricane, in that it began life off the coast of West Africa as a tropical wave. It managed to survive a journey of almost 8,000km across the Atlantic, overcoming unfavourable winds, an area of relatively low sea temperatures, and a good deal of dry, dusty air.

Once Earl reached the Caribbean it intensified, gaining energy from unusually high sea surface temperatures of 30C. En route to Belize it passed over the Dominican Republic. Here winds were strong enough to bring down power lines, one of which fell on a bus, causing a fire. It was reported that six people were killed and 12 injured.

Although Belize is no stranger to cyclones of varying strength, it is almost five years since the last named storm, Harvey, hit the country. The last hurricane to make landfall was Richard in October 2010.

In the week there is little sign of any significant storm development in the region, so this will allow the clear-up operation to proceed unhindered by any more bad weather.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies