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Lisa weakens to tropical storm after leaving Belize’s main port in dark

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BELIZE CITY — Lisa weakened into a tropical storm as it moved across Belize Wednesday, leaving much of the country’s largest city in the dark, although there were no reports of deaths or major damage so far in the Caribbean nation famed for its tourist appeal.

The eye of Lisa churned about 60 miles (95 km) west of Belize City, the tiny country’s main commercial port, targeting northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico with the promise of heavy rain and gusty winds.

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The storm’s maximum sustained winds slowed to 60 miles per hour (95 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest report.

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On Wednesday evening, much of Belize City was without power and water after Lisa yanked up trees and toppled electric posts.

“It is a scary experience,” said single mother Angelica Escalante, who works as a translator in the town of Sand Hill, just outside Belize City and expressed concern about her neighbors’ homes.

“Their roofs might not be strong enough for this weather,” she said.

Indeed, some roofs sustained damage while flooding to bungalow houses was also visible, but local officials had yet to quantify the impact from the storm.

The center forecasts rapid weakening as Lisa moves further inland, but steady rainfall and the potential for widespread flooding still pose significant dangers.

NHC predicts that after Lisa moves over sparsely-populated Belize, its strong winds and heavy rains will slowly cross the jungles of northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico, home to ancient Maya ruins and beach resorts.

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Weather models over the next couple of days show Lisa on a path to reach the southern Gulf of Mexico’s Bay of Campeche, where major offshore drilling rigs operated by national oil company Pemex are located. The models, however, show a weakened storm system once it reaches the area.

The NHC said Lisa was moving westward at a speed of 12 mph (19 kph) and that a powerful storm surge could lift tides some four to seven feet (one to two meters) above normal levels.

The Belize government’s emergency services announced on Wednesday afternoon a state of emergency including a curfew across two districts covering large swathes of its Caribbean coast through Thursday. Officials advised people living in vulnerable areas to move to shelters, adding that border crossings, ports and airports were also ordered closed.

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President Alejandro Giammattei of neighboring Guatemala told a news conference food rations were being sent to vulnerable areas.

Giammattei added that damage was expected in Guatemala’s Maya biosphere reserve, a stretch of protected rainforest home to rich fauna and major archeological sites.

Guatemala’s disaster agency Conred said earlier that floods had hit Melchor de Menchos, the main border crossing with Belize, affecting 95 people and inflicting “moderate damage” on some homes.

Honduras fire chief Wilmer Guerrero said Lisa had not caused damage when it passed over Honduras’ Bay Islands, while its largest island, Roatan, suspended a state of emergency there.

The NHC also warned of tropical storm conditions between the Mexican border city of Chetumal and Costa Maya, one of the country’s most popular cruise ports, though its tropical storm warning did not stretch as far north to the popular beach resort of Tulum. (Reporting by Jose Sanchez in Belize City; Enrique Garcia in Guatemala City; Gustavo Palencia in Tegucipalpa and Sarah Morland and Brendan O’Boyle in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Brijesh Patel and Kavya Guduru in Bengaluru; Editing by Diane Craft, Mark Heinrich, Josie Kao & Shri Navaratnam)

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