Hurricane Paula threatens Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

CANCUN, Mexico — A strengthening Hurricane Paula roared toward Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday night.

The hurricane smashed homes and forced schools to cancel classes in Honduras early Tuesday, then grew into a Category 2 storm with top sustained winds of 100 miles per hour on its way to the Yucatan, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Moving north at near 9 mph, Paula's center was expected to pass just to the east of Cancun this morning, and was expected to decrease in forward speed after that, the center said.

It said the hurricane could get close to western Cuba by tonight or early Thursday.

The center warned that preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.

Dozens of boat owners in Cancun hauled yachts and other vessels to shore, while sea tour operators canceled reservations. At least one company, Transbordadores del Caribe, canceled ferry trips from Playa del Carmen to the resort island of Cozumel south of Cancun, though others were still operating while the still-mild weather.

Paula was expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain on Honduras, northern Belize, eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and parts of western and central Cuba.

Paula is projected to churn over much of Cuba's midsection, weakening to a depression by Sunday and remaining well south of Florida.

Because the system is expected to remain strong as it hits western Cuba, Paula might deliver some rough weather to the Florida Keys.

For now, forecasters do not expect South Florida to feel the wrath of Paula, a small system, with hurricane strength winds extending only 15 miles from its core and tropical force winds 60 miles.

Just the same, because its future track remains uncertain, officials at the National Hurricane Center urged residents to keep an eye on it. All of South Florida is in the system's five-day cone of uncertainty.