A potentially catastrophic class-five Hurricane Felix ripped across the warm waters of the Caribbean on early Monday towards Honduras and Belize after damaging homes and power lines in Grenada.
The storm was so powerful that it tossed around a US 'hurricane hunter' data gathering airplane and forced it to abort its mission, the
At 0600 GMT, its centre was located some 475 kms (295 miles) south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, packing winds of 270 kms (165 miles) per hour, with higher gusts, the Florida-based National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.
Felix was moving west at around 33 kms (21 miles) per hour, and was on track to skim the north coast of Honduras near the border with Nicaragua on Tuesday before heading directly for Belize and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, where it could make landfall on Wednesday. <b1>
In just 15 hours on Sunday, Felix jumped from a Category Two storm with winds at 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour to a rare Category Five hurricane, the most powerful on the Saffir-Sampson scale.
The speed at which Felix was upgraded to a Category Five hurricane was one of the fastest ever recorded, Hurricane Center specialists said.
No casualties were reported since Felix became the second full-fledged hurricane of the Atlantic storm season mid-day on Saturday.
However one person was reported missing in northern Venezuela, drenched by heavy rains from Felix.
The storm, nourished by the warm Caribbean ocean, was expected to maintain its strength as it followed the general path that another Category Five storm, Hurricane Dean, took just last week.
Felix was so powerful that one of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's two 'hurricane hunter' airplanes was caught in a rapid updraft-downdraft cycle as it gathered data, the Miami Herald reported.
The violent cycle placed four times the weight of gravity on those aboard the plane. "Four Gs can put a fair strain on the aircraft, and it also got some very heavy hail that can rip the paint off the plane," Hurricane Center forecaster James Franklin told the newspaper.
The airplane, a modified Orion P-3 that normally has a crew of 14 people, was ordered back to its base at Saint Croix, one of the US Virgin Islands, Franklin said.
The Honduran government on late Sunday issued a hurricane warning for five departments on its Caribbean coast. Hurricane conditions "are also possible over extreme northeastern Nicaragua," the Hurricane Center said.
In Venezuela, civil defense officials said a person went missing as beaches were evacuated in Puerto Cabello, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Caracas, where Felix generated high winds, heavy rains and up to three meter (10 foot) swells.
There were no immediate reports of damage as the storm skimmed just north of the Paraguana peninsula, site of Venezuela's main oil refineries.
Meanwhile Jamaica, which lay well to the north of Felix's track, was under a tropical storm watch as it prepared to hold elections Monday, already postponed from one week ago by Hurricane Dean. <b2>
Felix was expected to drop five to 10 centimeters (two to four inches) of rain on Colombia's Guajira peninsula, the NHC said.
Warnings for Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao were discontinued as Felix swiped the popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands Antilles after wreaking some damage in Grenada, ripping roofs, downing power lines and knocking radio and TV stations off the air.
Last week, Dean, also reaching category five, swept through the Caribbean with severe winds and rains, leaving a wide swathe of damage and a toll of 30 from Martinique to Mexico.