Oranjestad, Aruba Hurricane Felix rapidly strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 storm Sunday and churned its way into the open waters of the Caribbean Sea after toppling trees and flooding some homes on a cluster of Dutch islands.
Felix was packing winds of up to 165 mph as it headed west, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was projected to skirt Honduras' coastline on Tuesday before slamming into Belize on Wednesday.
A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Honduras, where authorities were keeping a close eye on the storm but had not begun any evacuations. Along the northern coast, tourists were still lounging by the pool and enjoying the sun, hoteliers said.
In Belize, residents stocked up on water and food, and nailed boards over windows to protect against the hurricane's howling winds. Many who lived in low-lying areas were seeking higher ground.
On Sunday, Felix lashed Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire with rains and winds, causing scattered power outages and forcing thousands of tourists to take refuge in hotels. But residents expressed relief it did far less damage than feared as the storm's outer bands grazed the tiny islands.
"Thankfully we didn't get a very bad storm. My dog slept peacefully through the night," said Bonaire medical administrator Siomara Albertus, who waited out the storm in her home with her Labrador Retriever.
The storm forced tens of thousands of tourists and residents on the three islands to remain in their homes and hotels, stocked with water, flashlights and emergency provisions.
In Curacao, about a dozen homes in a low-lying area were flooded. In Aruba, there was little visible damage, although at least one catamaran snapped off its mooring and a house was damaged by a downed tree. A northern settlement had a temporary power outage.
Many Bonaire residents had prepared for the worst, installing storm shutters and hauling their boats ashore, but the storm's winds left little damage.
Felix became the second Atlantic hurricane of the season on Saturday evening, following Hurricane Dean, which left at least 20 dead in the Caribbean and carved out a destructive swath that stretched from St. Lucia to Mexico.
At 10 p.m. CDT, Felix was centered about 345 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and was heading west at about 24 mph, the hurricane center said.
Tropical storm watches were issued for Grand Cayman and Jamaica, which was battered by Dean on Aug. 19. A watch means tropical storm conditions could begin affecting the island within 36 hours.