(Israel Leal ~ Associated Press)
The hurricane smashed homes and forced schools to cancel classes in Honduras early Tuesday, then grew into a Category 2 storm with top sustained winds of 100 miles per hour on its way to the Yucatan, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Moving north-northwest at near 10 mph, Paula's center was expected to pass just to the east of Cancun this morning, and could near Category 3 strength by then, according to the Hurricane Center.
It warned that preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.
Dozens of boat owners in Cancun hauled yachts and other vessels to shore, while sea tour operators canceled reservations.
At least one company, Transbordadores del Caribe, canceled ferry trips from Playa del Carmen to the resort island of Cozumel south of Cancun, though others were still operating in the still-mild weather.
Armando Galmiche closed down his water-skiing tour business in Cancun and canceled 15 reservation he had for Tuesday afternoon.
"It's already low season for tourism and with this hurricane, things are going to get worse," he said, lamenting the loss of revenue.
Early Tuesday, heavy rains and high winds destroyed 19 homes in northeastern Honduras, said Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' emergency agency. Officials closed schools along the country's Atlantic coast and some airports were reported closed.
Tuesday afternoon, the hurricane was centered about 140 miles south-southeast of Cozumel.
Paula was expected to dump from 3 to 6 inches of rain on Honduras, northern Belize, eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and parts of western and central Cuba.
The Mexican government issued a hurricane warning for the country's Caribbean coast from Punta Gruesa north to Cabo Catoche, including the island of Cozumel. Warnings are issued when hurricane conditions are almost certain to occur.
Forecasters warned of possible flooding and landslides and suggested residents avoid fishing trips or water sports.
Forecasters said the storm would produce heavy rains that could cause flash floods and mudslides, especially in the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras. It said isolated, mountainous areas in Honduras could get as many as 10 inches of rain.
Coastal flooding from heavy waves was also expected along the eastern coast of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.