Patricia slams Mexico coast as Category 5 hurricane
Hurricane Patricia roared ashore in southwestern Mexico as a Category 5 storm Friday evening, bringing lashing rains, surging seas and cyclonic winds hours after it peaked as one of the strongest storms ever recorded.
Although it had weakened some before hitting the coast, forecasters said it had potential to do "catastrophic" damage.
There were early reports of some flooding and landslides, but no word of fatalities or major damage as the storm moved over inland mountains after nightfall. Television news reports from the coast showed some toppled trees and lampposts and inundated streets. Milenio TV carried footage of cars and buses being swept by floodwaters in the state of Jalisco.
Patricia's center made landfall in a relatively low-populated stretch of the Jalisco state coast near Cuixmala. The nearest significant city, Manzanillo, was about 55 miles (85 kilometers) southeast and outside the zone of the storm's hurricane-force winds.
Patricia's projected path headed over a mountainous region dotted with hamlets that are at risk for dangerous mudslides and flash floods, and where communications can be sketchy. It wasn't clear when emergency crews would be able to fully assess the storm's impact in those isolated areas.
The storm was expected to rapidly weaken over the mountains and dissipate Saturday, but it was still capable of soaking the region with heavy rain.
Patricia "continues to advance and continues to be extremely dangerous," national civil protection coordinator Luis Felipe Puente warned via Twitter. "Stay informed and follow recommendations."
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm made landfall as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph (270 kph). Late Friday, Patricia was rapidly losing steam but was still an "extremely dangerous, major hurricane" with winds at 130 mph (215 kph), the center reported, or just above the threshold for a Category 4.
Its center was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, where rain began to fall harder than it had all day but there was still no sign of strong winds. Streets were deserted except for police patrolling slowly with their emergency lights on.
Brandie Galle, a tourist from Grants Pass, Oregon, said she sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. Workers let them out to eat in a hotel restaurant after the city was not feeling any major effects from the storm two hours after landfall. There was no visible damage to the building.
Galle said some guests desperate to leave had earlier paid $400 for taxis to drive them the 120 miles (200 kilometers) to the inland city of Guadalajara.
Patricia formed suddenly Tuesday as a tropical storm and quickly strengthened to a hurricane. Within 30 hours it had zoomed to a record-beating Category 5 storm, catching many off guard with its rapid growth.
By Friday it was the most powerful hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere, with a central pressure of 880 millibars and maximum sustained winds of 200 mph (325 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center.
Patricia's power while still out at sea was comparable to that of Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 dead or missing in the Philippines two years ago, according to the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization. More than 4 million people were displaced and over 1 million houses were destroyed or damaged in 44 provinces in the central Visayas region, a large cluster of islands.
Mexican officials declared a state of emergency in dozens of municipalities in Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco states, and schools were closed. Many residents bought supplies ahead of Patricia's arrival. Authorities opened hundreds of shelters and announced plans to shut off electricity as a safety precaution.
According to the 2010 census, there were more than 7.3 million inhabitants in Jalisco state and more than 255,000 in Puerto Vallarta municipality. There were more than 650,000 in Colima state, and more than 161,000 in Manzanillo.
One of the worst Pacific hurricanes to ever hit Mexico slammed into the same region, in Colima state, in October 1959, killing at least 1,500 people, according to Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention.
Wendi Mozingo of Austin, Texas, and six family members sat on folding chairs in a shelter in Puerto Vallarta after being ordered out of their beachfront vacation rental home by managers of the property. They brought a few changes of clothes and left everything else behind.
The family was supposed to depart Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday, but now, Mozingo said, "We're leaving as soon as we can."
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said tens of thousands of American citizens were believed to be vacationing or living in areas likely to be affected by the storm.
Three airports in the storm's path were shut: Puerto Vallarta; Manzanillo in Colima state; and Tepic in Nayarit.
Jose Manuel Gonzalez Ochoa was one of the residents who decided to get out of Puerto Vallarta, heading to a town about 30 minutes from the coast. His family lives in their ground-floor chicken restaurant, Pollos Vallarta, and neighbors told them water was 5 feet deep in the street the last time a hurricane came through.
"The whole government is telling us to leave," he said. "You have to obey."
Asked what preparations he would make for his business, Gonzalez Ochoa said he planned to just close up and see what was left after the storm passed.
Patricia also threatens Texas with forecasters saying that even after the storm breaks, up its tropical moisture will likely feed heavy rains already soaking the state.
The U.S. National Weather Service said a flash flood watch would be in effect through Sunday morning for Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.
A coastal flood warning was in effect through Friday night in Corpus Christi. Galveston was under a coastal flood advisory until Saturday night.