Mega-storm Patricia drenches Mexico as it weakens

Record-breaking Hurricane Patricia pushed rapidly inland over mountainous western Mexico early Saturday, weakening to tropical storm force while dumping torrential rains that authorities warned could cause deadly floods and mudslides.

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Puerto Vallarta: Record-breaking Hurricane Patricia pushed rapidly inland over mountainous western Mexico early Saturday, weakening to tropical storm force while dumping torrential rains that authorities warned could cause deadly floods and mudslides.

Patricia, which peaked as the strongest hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere, made landfall Friday on a sparsely populated stretch of Mexico's Pacific coast as a Category 5 storm, avoiding direct hits on the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and major port city of Manzanillo.

There were reports of some flooding and landslides, but no word of fatalities or major damage as the storm pushed across inland mountains while bypassing the metropolis of Guadalajara overnight.

Residents of the coast where Patricia came ashore last night described an enraged sea that crashed into hotels, scooping beach away from their foundations, and howling winds that toppled trees and telephone posts.

"The waves were coming into the hotel," said Domingo Hernandez, a watchman at the Hotel Barra de Navidad in the resort village of the same name in Jalisco state.

"All the streets here in town are full of downed trees all over the place," said Hernandez, who described Patricia as the strongest storm he's seen in a quarter century of living on the coast. "You have to make your way around all the downed telephone poles, the power lines, the trees."

Mexico's Secretary of Tourism, Enrique de la Madrid, said major tourist resorts like Puerto Vallarta had had "extraordinary luck" in avoiding damage from the once immensely powerful storm.

"There are some mountains that served as a barrier, and that at the end of the day is what prevented the winds from having to come through here," he said of Vallarta.

President Enrique Pena Nieto issued a taped address late Friday, noting that while initial reports indicate damage has been less than those expected, "We cannot yet let our guard down."

Patricia weakened to tropical storm force by dawn Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph) and was expected to dissipate over Mexico's inland mountains, becoming a tropical storm later in the day. Its center was about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northeast of Zacatecas. It was moving toward the north-northeast at 21 mph (33 kph).

Tourist Brandie Galle of Grants Pass, Oregon, said she had been sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. When the city was not feeling any major effects from the storm two hours after landfall, workers let them out to eat at a hotel restaurant.

"They said it looked like the storm had hit below us," she said. "Everyone is starting to perk up a little bit but still kind of on edge waiting to see what's going to happen with the storm." 

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