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Tropical Storm Earl raises risk of dangerous flooding in western Caribbean

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A wet Tropical Storm Earl, already blamed for six deaths in the Dominican Republic, could bring dangerous flash floods across the western Caribbean, forecasters warned Tuesday.

At 5 p.m., National Hurricane Center forecasters said the storm was located about 200 miles south of Grand Cayman Island moving west at 16 mph with sustained winds of 50 mph. On its current path, Earl’s center should pass just north of the Honduras Bay Islands Wednesday afternoon and the coast of Belize early Thursday.

The storm is expected to strengthen, nearing hurricane strength when it reaches the Yucatán peninsula, forecasters said. Tropical storm force winds extend about 90 miles from Earl’s center.

While Jamaica received heavy rain Tuesday, forecasters said conditions would likely get worse as the storm moved west. As much as eight to 12 inches could swamp parts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and the Yucatán peninsula, with some isolated areas in Mexico and Belize receiving 16 inches.

Forecasters warned that the heavy rain could increase the risk of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. A storm surge could also push up water levels by two to four feet off the coast of Belize and the eastern Yucatán peninsula, north of the storm’s landfall. The coast could also get slammed with damaging waves.

On Sunday, as a weaker tropical wave, Earl was blamed for downing power lines in the Dominican Republic that started a fire that killed six passengers on a bus filled with people returning from a beach outing.

Belize's National Emergency Management Organization issued a warning Tuesday in the English-speaking Central American country, saying the storm would likely make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday, with extreme flooding conditions expected that could flood crops, uproot trees and cause heavy damage to poorly constructed or timber buildings. There is also concern that the country’s coastal roads could be washed away.

“Within 24 hours’ time we should experience rough seas, wind gusts in excess of 50 miles per hour and continuous rainfall along the coast drifting westward over Belize,” the agency said.

Shelters in some communities are scheduled to open Wednesday morning, and buses are preparing to begin evacuations if needed.

Earl becomes the fifth named storm as the Atlantic season enters its busiest months, August through October. Forecasters said heavy rains were expected to fall over Jamaica, spreading to the Cayman Islands.

A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch extended along the Yucatán from Punta Allen south to Belize. A tropical storm warning was in effect from Cabo Gracias west to Honduras. Tropical storm conditions could reach the Honduran coast by Tuesday night and Mexico and Belize by late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Caribbean/Haiti Correspondent Jacqueline Charles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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