BELIZE CITY (Reuters) - A weakening Tropical Storm Keith continued to dump torrential rain on the Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday, and threatened Belize and northern Guatemala with flash floods and mudslides.
Keith, a Category Four hurricane until it was downgraded to a tropical storm late on Monday, has killed five people in Nicaragua and forced thousands of people from their homes in Mexico and Central America.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said early on Tuesday that while the storm that once clocked 135 mile per hour winds was weakening, it remained a serious threat due to heavy rain as it moved northwest.
In its 5 a.m. EDT report on the storm's movement, Hurricane Center forecasters said a tropical storm warning was in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize from Cabo Catoche, Mexico, to Monkey River Town, Belize.
A Tropical Storm watch was in effect for the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from Cabo Catoche to Progreso.
Forecasters said rains could produce "life-threatening" flash floods and mudslides. The Hurricane Center said recent radio reports indicated more than 22 inches of rain had fallen west of Belize City since Saturday and up to 15 inches of additional rain could fall before the storm leaves the region.
At 5 a.m. EDT the center of the storm was located inland over the Yucatan Peninsula about 20 miles southwest of Chetumal, Mexico.
Keith was moving toward the northwest at about 6 miles per hour and was expected to remain on that course for the next 24 hours.
Maximum sustained winds were near 55 mph with higher gusts. Gradual weakening was expected over the next 24 hours.
Thirty foreign tourists trapped on a Belize cay battered by Tropical Storm Keith -- all but two of them U.S. citizens -- have radioed in to the tiny Central American nation's government that they are safe and well, a top official said late on Monday.
"They wanted to communicate with the rest of country that they were all right and that no-one had been injured," Senior Information Officer Patrick Jones told Reuters by telephone.
The storm has wracked up millions of dollars in damage in the former British colony, eliciting calls for international aide from Prime Minister Said Musa.
"It's now diminished, but we've suffered extensive damage," the leader of Belize's 250,000 people told Reuters.
Keith was one of the fiercest storms of the year and the seventh named hurricane of the Atlantic season.
A spokesman for Belize's National Emergency Management Organization said earlier on Monday that large parts of the country had been without power and telephone service.
In Guatemala, the government was forced to declare a red alert in the municipality of Melchor de Mencos, 20 miles west of Belmopan. Ten villages and about 500 farms in Melchor de Mencos were under about 4 inches of water.
"It's been raining hard there for four days," said Marleny Moscoso, spokeswoman for the Guatemala National Disaster Reduction Commission (CONRED).
In Nicaragua, where officials recalled the devastating passage in 1998 of Hurricane Mitch, which killed 10,000 in Central America, authorities said five people died in the nation's northwest and 2,360 had been evacuated from their homes since Keith hit over the weekend.
The dead included two teenagers and a 76-year-old man.
RESORTS HIT HARDEST
Belize City was flooded but authorities said the worst-hit areas were San Pedro, a tourist resort on Ambergris Cay, off the coast, and Caye Caulker, a tiny island 19 miles east of Belize City.
Musa said his government was speaking to British and U.S. authorities about emergency supplies such as medicines and helicopters.
In the southeastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, the government said it expected life to return to normal on Tuesday, as people went back to work and schools reopened. Earlier in the day, the state closed a main road crossing the border from Chetumal, a city of 250,000 in Mexico, to Belize.
Mexican state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos said in a press statement late on Monday that they will resume operations at oil platforms in Campeche sound, on the west side of the Yucatan Peninsula, on Tuesday after having evacuated 6,300 workers from the operations over the weekend.
(Additional reporting by Greg Brosnan in Guatemala City)