(CBS/AP) TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Tropical Storm Ernesto strengthened Monday as it headed for a brush with the Caribbean coast of Honduras and Nicaragua on a track that might carry it to the Belize-Mexico border as a hurricane.
Nicaragua began evacuating hundreds of people from imperiled coastal fishing villages and Honduran officials said they were watching the storm closely.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm strengthened as it slowed passing Jamaica and had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph Monday afternoon, up from winds of 50 mph as it charged across the Caribbean in recent days.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center believes the storm could grow into a hurricane during the night while dumping torrential rains on northern Honduras, including the Bay Islands that are popular resort areas for foreigners.
Ernesto hasn't made any direct hits on land since entering the Caribbean early Saturday, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was predicted to stay offshore while swirling past Honduras by Monday night. However, the said the storm could hit somewhere in Belize or along Mexico's southern Yucatan coast as a strong Category 1 storm on Wednesday. CBS News severe weather consultant David Bernard added that Ernesto isn't going to head toward the United States but could be a pretty bad storm for Belize and parts of Mexico and Guatemala.
The storm passed to the south of Jamaica, where authorities said rains fell over much of the island, particularly its eastern areas. Rain and wind began tapering off Sunday evening, but the government urged islanders to remain alert during the night and said fishermen should remain in safe harbors.
Many Jamaicans stocked up on food and water before the storm made itself felt on their island. Forecasters has said there was a possibility of up to three to six inches of rain, so many islanders stood in long lines at grocery stores on Saturday in the island's capital of Kingston to buy bottled water, bread and canned goods.
"We're going to have heavy rains, so I'm stocking up," said Marco Brown, a Kingston resident in his late 50s.
Still, few seemed very worried, even though the government had ordered fishermen on outlying cays to evacuate and head towards the main island.
Daniel Edwards, who was bailing out his small wooden fishing boat next to a dilapidated dock in Port Royal, a small fishing village, said he wasn't overly concerned by the storm.
"It's not much of a muchness," the veteran fisherman said.
A tropical storm warning was issued early Monday for the coast of Honduras, from the border with Nicaragua westward to Punta Sal, including the Bay Islands. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the main island of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands to the north of Ernesto.
A Cayman government statement urged Grand Cayman residents to monitor the storm but said it was not likely to have serious effects on the British Caribbean territory.
Also, Mexico has issued a hurricane watch Monday for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Hurricane Center said Ernesto was centered about 160 miles east-northeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border Monday afternoon and it was moving to the west-northwest at 12 mph. It had been racing along at nearly twice that pace over the weekend.
Far out in the Atlantic, Florence had weakened into a remnant low on Monday. Additional weakening is forecast and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Florence was expected to degenerate within the next few days. Florence was centered about 1,610 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands.