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Some evacuations as storm heads by Honduras coast

This NOAA satellite image taken Monday, Aug. 6,

This NOAA satellite image taken Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at 1:45 p.m. EDT shows a swirl of clouds in the western Caribbean Sea associated with Tropical Storm Ernesto as it moves toward the Yucatan Peninsula. Credit: AP

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Tropical Storm Ernesto moved closer to the Central American coast Monday night as authorities in Nicaragua moved some people from low-lying areas and Honduras considered evacuations.

With Ernesto predicted to stay at sea while passing along Honduras' northern coast, Honduran authorities were monitoring the storm and there were no immediate plans to evacuate people, said Roberto Diaz, operations chief of the country's Contingencies Commission.

"We don't think is necessary to evacuate people at this point," Diaz said. "We don't want to create collective panic ... and we think that ordering an evacuation would create hysteria that would affect the population more than the storm itself."

Authorities sent enough food packages to the sparsely populated area to feed 600 families for two weeks, Diaz said.

Contingencies Commission director Lisandro Rosales said the panel was urging men in the region expected to be most affected to stay alert throughout the night in case of flooding.

"The river flows are still low, so we don't expect any problems," Rosales said.

Rain began falling Monday night and the region between Cabo Gracias a Dios and the city of Trujillo had received about one inch of rain, Diaz said.

Officials in Nicaragua evacuated hundreds of people living along the coast and near the border with Honduras, Guillermo Gonzalez, who is in charge of the country's emergency services, told local television.

"The scope of action will include a big chunk of the northern Caribbean coast, specifically the area between Cabo Gracias a Dios, the Misquito Cays, Puerto Cabezas and Waspam," Gonzalez said.

Ernesto could drop up to five inches of rain along Honduras' coast and the northeastern shores of Nicaragua, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

After passing Honduras, the storm was expected to grow to near-hurricane force before moving ashore near the Belize-Mexico border early Wednesday and eventually passing into the southern Gulf of Mexico.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the coast of Honduras, from the border with Nicaragua westward to Punta Sal, including the Bay Islands. Hurricane warnings were posted for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and all of Belize's coast.

In Mexico's southern state of Tabasco, authorities warned people of possible floods in the mountains near the state of Chiapas.

"There is a significant risk from water currents of several winding rivers that go into populated areas and cross highways," said Hector Perez, spokesman of Tabasco's office of the federal National Water Commission.

In the past, swollen rivers have swept away houses, livestock and people and set off landslides in the area. In a landslide last year, 31 people were buried in the Chiapas town of Juan del Grijalva.

Tabasco authorities also were taking preventive measures along the state's Gulf of Mexico coast, Civil Protection director Roberto Lopez said. He said authorities were recommending residents stay indoors and listen for any emergency announcements issued by authorities.

Tabasco is a low-lying state that often floods. In 2007, heavy rains caused widespread flooding that left 1 million homes underwater and killed 33 people.

Late Monday, Ernesto was centered about 265 miles (425 kilometers) east of the Honduran island of Roatan, the U.S. hurricane center said. The storm had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph (100 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

Far out in the Atlantic, Florence weakened to a tropical depression Monday and later dissipated, the center said.

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