TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Tropical Storm Richard gained strength Saturday, lashing the Caribbean coast of Honduras with strong winds and heavy rain that threatened potentially deadly flash floods and landslides.
The storm was expected to pass near or over Honduras' coast late Saturday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Officials declared a three-day state of alert in seven provinces in northern and eastern Honduras.
Richard is also likely to pass near the Honduran island of Roatan, which is popular with tourists and divers, before making landfall in Belize as a hurricane with winds of up to 80 mph late today. Hurricane warnings were issued for all of those areas, and warnings were in place for Mexico's southern Caribbean coast.
By Saturday afternoon, Richard was just off Honduras' coast, and was moving west at about 8 mph.
Its maximum sustained winds strengthened to 65 mph and were forecast to reach hurricane strength by early today, according to the hurricane center.
"Richard is traveling slowly parallel to Honduras' Atlantic coast and causing rains since Friday night on the Caribbean seaboard," said Daniel Posas of Honduras' National Meteorological Service.
Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' Permanent Emergency Commission, said civil defense offices along the coast were preparing to carry out evacuations if needed.
The hurricane center said Richard could cause "large, destructive waves" and storm surges of 2 to 4 feet above normal tides in Honduras and Belize. The storm could bring 3 to 5 inches of rain to northern Honduras and as much as 7 inches in some spots, which the center said "could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides."