Tropical Storm Chantal barreled onto Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Monday night, bringing strong winds and rain, while its churning seas left two local fishermen missing off the country's southeastern coast, authorities said.
The fishermen, from the state of Quintana Roo, were missing after they ignored warnings to avoid open seas during the storm, said Jose Nemesio Medina, director of the state's civil protection services.
Two municipalities in Quintana Roo, home to Cancun and other resorts on the "Maya Riviera," were under a "state of alarm" as Chantal's winds and rains were forecast to gain power closer to midnight, civil protection authorities said.
Chantal, hovering near Mexico's border with the small nation of Belize, packed sustained winds of about 70 mph, leaving it just shy of the 74-mph winds that would place it in the hurricane category, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Chantal was expected to batter the Yucatan with between 5 and 8 inches of rain and violent waves, though most of the heaviest rains and strongest winds were not expected to hit shore for between six and 12 hours, the U.S. agency said.
The prospect of damage from Chantal had already forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and tourists to cut short Caribbean vacations. At least 500 families were evacuated from low-lying areas of Quintana Roo.
Across the border in Belize, about 5,000 residents and foreign tourists fled Ambergris Cay, just beyond a peninsula that hangs down from Mexico, and the island of Cay Caulker, both blasted by Hurricane Keith in October.
As of 8 p.m. EDT, Chantal was moving west-northwest at 14 mph but was forecast to weaken as it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula toward the Gulf of Mexico during the succeeding 24 hours.
Chantal is the third tropical storm of the June-to-November hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The first, Allison, killed at least 18 people in Texas and Louisiana and flooded several southeastern and mid-Atlantic states in June.
The second, Barry, doused northern Florida and parts of Alabama this month but caused no deaths.