|Hurricane Richard caused floods and landslides in Honduras before moving on to Belize [AFP]
Hurricane Richard has struck the tiny Central American nation of Belize, knocking out electricity as tourists and residents huddled in government shelters.
Richard made landfall just south of Belize City, the capital, on Sunday and was expected to weaken to a tropical depression before entering Mexico's main oil producing region in the Bay of Campeche by Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
"Our windows are shuttered so we can't see anything, but the wind is howling fiercely," Myrna Harris, the manageress of a hotel in the Belize City, said. She moved all her guests and furniture to the second floor of the hotel.
Richard packed maximum sustained winds of 150km per hour, doubling over palm trees on Belize's coast, webcam images showed, and residents called a local radio station to report power outages and plead for help as rivers quickly rose.
Before the storm touched land, hotels across southern Belize had sent foreign travellers to inland shelters, the national tourism board said. Workers at some hotels chopped down fruit and coconuts from trees.
"We don't want the fruit to become missiles during the storm," Rosario Villanueva, a security guard at a hotel in Placencia, said.
Families in the impoverished country of about 330,000 people left flimsy houses and moved into shelters along the coast, Noreen Fairweather, the co-ordinator of the country's emergency services organisation said.
"It could get dicey out there," Fairweather said.
Belize, a former British colony, is a popular destination for foreign tourists who are drawn to its lush jungles, palm-fringed islands and coral reef.
Further up the Caribbean coast, Mexico evacuated residents from Mayan villages on the Yucatan peninsula where many of the poor live in thatched huts. The storm looked likely to spare the resort city of Cancun.
The Bay of Campeche, which Richard is set to reach on Tuesday, produces more than two-thirds of Mexico's 2.6 million barrels-per-day of crude output.
Most computer forecasting models appeared to suggest the storm would steer clear of major oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mexico's state oil company, Pemex, said it was watching the storm but had not evacuated any workers from its offshore platforms. The storm would likely not strengthen again once it entered the Gulf, the NHC said.
"We're still operating normally and monitoring [the storm]," a Pemex spokesman said.
In September, Hurricane Karl forced a brief shutdown of 14 minor Mexican wells in the Gulf, but had no significant impact on production.
Richard was a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest rank on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.
Richard was the 10th hurricane of the busy 2010 Atlantic storm season. Five of those hurricanes have been major, but the United States has escaped a significant landfall so far.
Earlier in the day, Richard knocked down trees and power lines on the islands off Honduras' north coast, whose white sandy beaches are popular with foreign tourists.
Honduras' coffee crop will likely not be affected by the storm, Dagoberto Suazo, a board member of the country's national coffee institute said.
Honduran authorities said electricity had been knocked out in some areas and mudslides had cut off dozens of villages.
"Thank God we don't have any serious damage or deaths or injuries," Lizandro Rosales, the head of Honduras' emergency services committee, said.
Richard will also cross through northern Guatemala, threatening to cause floods and mudslides, though the head of the country's coffee growers' association said the coffee crop would probably not be affected.