2,000 Britons flee 180mph hurricane

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THE FIRST of about 2,000 British tourists caught in thepath of the 180mph winds from Hurricane Mitch were being flown to safety last night.

With the hurricane, which has killed at least 12 people, still stalled off the coast of Honduras, tour operators were arranging flights for Britons staying on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. The bulk of the holidaymakers are staying in the tourist resort of Cancun.

A spokesman for the Federation of Tour Operators said all British holidaymakers in the region were being strongly advised to leave. He added that holidaymakers due to leave Britain for the area yesterday and today were being offered alternative holidays.

Thomson Holidays has also flown 649 tourists from Cancun and the nearby resort of Puerto del Carmen. The company has set up two helpline numbers in response to the hurricane. The first (0870 607 1820) is for relatives and friends of holidaymakers in the region, and the other (0870 607 5015) for people due to fly out.

A spokeswoman for the First Choice group said around 700 Britons in the region travelling with them were being flown home as soon as possible.

The Foreign Office has also advised against all non-essential travel to the Yucatan Peninsula and to Belize.

A spokeswoman said embassy staff in the region would remain on duty to offer what assistance they could to Britons caught up in the hurricane.

Early yesterday Hurricane Mitch - the fourth strongest in the Caribbean this century - was 35 miles off the coast of Honduras. The winds have dropped slightly, but are still reaching speeds of around 140mph. The slow-moving storm is also bringing severe flooding, with up to 20ins of rain falling in some areas.

By contrast, the damage from floods that struck large parts of Wales last weekend were caused by little more than one tenth as much rainfall.

A spokesman for the PA WeatherCentre said Britons caught in the hurricane also faced the risk of worse flooding caused by "storm tides".

These are caused by extremely low air pressure and high winds "pushing" the sea, which is very shallow in the eastern Caribbean, on to the land. Such tides can often reach between 10ft and 15ft high.