UPDATE 1-Hurricane Raymond strengthens, seen missing Mexican coast
(Recasts with storm strengthening, coming to a halt)
* U.S. Hurricane Center upgrades storm to category 3
* Says may head west, missing Mexican coast
* Says south-central Mexico still facing days of heavy rain
MEXICO CITY, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The first major hurricane of the Eastern Pacific season strengthened as it came to a halt off Mexico early on Monday but forecasters expected it to head out to sea later in the week and miss the coast.
Communities on Mexico's southern Pacific coast battened down the hatches on Sunday night as Hurricane Raymond rumbled slowly toward Acapulco, where storms wrecking homes, roads and cars and stranded tourists last month.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center upgraded Raymond in the early hours of Monday to category three from category two, saying winds speeds had picked up to 120 miles (193 km) per hour.
But it had stopped moving about 100 nautical miles (185 km) off Mexico, was likely to remain stationary on Monday, then move westwards out to sea by late Tuesday or Wednesday.
"Guidance no longer brings the hurricane inland and if this trend continues the warnings for Mexico could be altered," the NHC said on its website.
Heavy rainfall would continue over south-central Mexico during the next few days, causing life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, it said.
Late on Sunday, authorities closed schools in Acapulco, the port of Lazaro Cardenas and other parts of the southwestern coastline of Mexico threatened by Raymond.
Mexico has no major oil installations in the path of the hurricane.
Hurricane alerts were issued from Acapulco, which lies in Guerrero state, to Lazaro Cardenas to the northwest in Michoacan state.
Angel Aguirre, the governor of Guerrero, urged people to leave areas at high risk of flooding, and Michoacan's government said all maritime activity and road travel should be avoided.
Mexico suffered its worst floods on record in mid-September when tropical storms Manuel and Ingrid converged from the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, killing more than 150 people and causing damage estimated at around $6 billion.
Acapulco, whose economy relies heavily on tourism, reported its worst hotel occupancy rates on record after those storms and was only just beginning to recover.
Up to 15 cm (6 inches) of rain could hit the coast, Mexico's national meteorological service (SMN) forecast.
Mexico's Gulf Coast is also facing heavy rains due to the advance of a cold front from the north, the government said.
The flooding, mudslides and displacement of thousands of people caused by the recent storms have heightened the risk of waterborne illness in Mexico. The country has recorded its first local transmission of cholera in just over a decade. (Reporting by Dave Graham; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Andrew Heavens)