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Originally published Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 12:47 PM

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Tropical Storm Richard drenches Honduran coast

Tropical Storm Richard lashed Honduras' Caribbean coast with heavy rain and wind and was expected to strengthen into a hurricane on Sunday as it roared toward Belize and southeastern Mexico.

The Associated Press

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras —

Tropical Storm Richard lashed Honduras' Caribbean coast with heavy rain and wind and was expected to strengthen into a hurricane on Sunday as it roared toward Belize and southeastern Mexico.

Authorities warned of deadly floods and mudslides in Honduras and declared states of maximum alert in four coastal provinces.

Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' Permanent Emergency Commission, said civil defense offices along the coast were preparing to carry out evacuations if needed.

Richard is likely to pass near the Honduran island of Roatan, which is popular with tourists and divers, before approaching Belize and southeastern Mexico late Sunday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

Hurricane warnings were issued for the coasts of Honduras and Belize, and storm warnings were in place for Mexico's southern Caribbean coast.

Early Sunday, Richard was just off Honduras' coast, at a point about 25 miles (45 kilometers) east-northeast of the Honduran island of Guanaja and was moving west-northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph).

Its maximum sustained winds strengthened to 70 mph (110 kph) and were expected to reach hurricane strength later Sunday, according to the hurricane center.

Honduran officials said rain was falling on the eastern province of Gracias a Dios, where floods have been severe in the past.

"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.

"Bands from Richard are already provoking strong winds in Gracias a Dios province that will increase over the course of the day."

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 (7 to 13 centimeters) of rain to northern Honduras and as much as 7 inches (18 centimeters) in some spots, which the center said "could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides."

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