VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) - Tropical Storm Barry approached very close to Mexico's Gulf Coast on Thursday as civil defense workers readied emergency shelters and forecasters warned heavy rains could trigger potentially deadly flash floods or mudslides.
The second tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season packed sustained 45-mph (75-kph) winds that were already being felt as the storm pushed very close to the coast northwest of the port city of Veracruz, forecasters said.
In Miami, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 30 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Veracruz at 8 a.m. EDT Thursday and heading west at 3 mph (5 kph) toward expected landfall.
"It's very close to the coast," Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila told The Associated Press, adding a small forward part of the system had begun brushing close to land while most of the vast system was still out over the Gulf of Mexico.
He said the ill-defined tropical storm would be making landfall sometime later Thursday morning, slowly coming ashore over the course of hours.
Between 3 to 5 inches of rain were possible with up to 10 inches in some areas, the hurricane center said.
Avila warned the rains could trigger life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially over mountains.
"There is still going to be a lot rain in the hours ahead," he told AP by telephone.
Tropical storm force winds were spreading outward up to 80 miles (130 kilometers) east from the center of the system.
Early Thursday, blustery winds were already being reported around the Gulf Coast areas closest to the storm's center. Forecasters said tropical storm conditions were already being felt in some areas and that strong winds would continue through Thursday morning.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from Punta El Lagarto to Tuxpan, in Veracruz state.
Veracruz state Civil Protection Secretary Noemi Guzman said 2,000 shelters had been readied in the state with mattresses, blankets, water and canned food. She said the shelters at schools and recreation centers could house up to 306,000 people.
The port of Veracruz was closed to small vessels because of the strong winds, Guzman added.
The storm had formed as a depression off the coast of Belize on Monday and began moving northward, dumping heavy rains on parts of that country and northern Guatemala before entering the Gulf of Mexico off Mexico's Bay of Campeche and strengthening somewhat over warm Gulf waters.
After moving inland Thursday, the storm was expected to weaken throughout the day and then begin breaking apart Friday as it crosses southern Mexico, the hurricane center said.