TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) - 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 as it headed to landfall in Belize.
By Saturday afternoon the storm was passing just off Honduras, where a hurricane warning was in effect. Rain was falling on the eastern province of Gracias a Dios, where floods have been severe in the past.
Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' Permanent Emergency Commission, said civil defense offices along the coast were preparing to carry out evacuations if needed.
In Belize, the government of the small Central American nation issued a hurricane warning for its entire coast, while Mexico issued a tropical storm warning for its southern Caribbean coast.
Richard's maximum sustained winds strengthened to 65 mph (100 kph) and were forecast to reach hurricane strength by early Sunday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
It was expected to come ashore in Belize with winds of about 80 mph (130 kph) late Sunday.
The storm was centered about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north-northwest of Honduras' easternmost coastal point and moving west at about 8 mph (13 kph) on a path that would take it near the Honduran island of Roatan, which is popular with tourists and divers.
"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."
Emergency officials declared a three-day state of alert in seven provinces in northern and eastern Honduras.