Mitch Bears Down On Honduras

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, listens to public reaction following the release of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission master plan, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, in New Orleans, La.
Honduras braced for potential catastrophe Tuesday as Hurricane Mitch roared through the northwest Caribbean with heart-stopping strength, churning up high waves and intense rain that sent coastal residents fleeing for safer ground.

President Carlos Flores Facusse declared a state of maximum alert, and the Honduran military sent planes to pluck residents from their homes on islands near the coast.

At 4 p.m. EST, the center of Hurricane Mitch was located about 100 miles northeast of La Ceibo, Honduras. This position is also about 60 miles north of the nearest Honduras coast. Packing 155-mph winds, Mitch is moving toward the west southwest near 6 mph, and a west-southwest to westward motion at about the same speed is expected for the next 24 hours.

A man tapes up windows near Mexico's eastern shore in preparation for Mitch's arrival.

"Mitch is closing in," said Monterrey Cardenas, mayor of Utila, an island 20 miles off the Honduran coast. "And God help us."

Mitch posed no immediate threat to the United States, forecasters said, but was expected to remain in the northwest Caribbean for the next five days.

If the storm continues on its current track, the vacation resorts of Cozumel And Cancun would be spared, reports CBS "This Morning" Meteorologist Craig Allen.

The U.S. National Weather Service in Miami said Mitch could weaken somewhat, but warned it would still remain "a very dangerous hurricane capable of causing catastrophic damage."

The entire coast of Honduras was under a hurricane warning and up to 15 inches of rain was forecast in mountain areas.

The Honduran president closed schools and public offices on the coast Monday and ordered all air force planes and helicopters to evacuate people from the Islas de la Bahia, a string of small islands off the country's central coast.

The head of the Honduran armed forces, Gen. Mario Hung Pacheco, said 5,000 soldiers were standing by to help victims of the storm, but he warned the military could not reach everyone.

"For that humanitarian work, we would need more than 300 Hercules C-137 planes," he said. "Honduras doesn't have them."

A hurricane warning was also in effect for the Caribbean coast of Guatemala.

In Belize, a hurricane warning was in place and the government also closed schools and sent workers home early Monday. Panic buying stripped bread from the shelves of some stores and some gasoline stations ran dry. Coastal Belize City was hit so hard by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 that thcountry built a new capital inland at Belmopan.

Mexico mobilized troops and emergency workers Monday on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula, which was also under a hurricane warning, and Cuba said it had evacuated 600 vacationers from the Island of Youth.

Jerry Jarrell, the weather center director, said Mitch was the strongest hurricane to strike the Caribbean since 1988, when Gilbert killed more than 300 people.

Before bearing down on Honduras, Mitch swept past Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Rain squalls flooded streets in the Jamaican capital, Kingston, and government offices and schools closed in the Caymans, a British colony of 28,000 people.