Massive storm Patricia spares cities as it slams into Mexico's Pacific coast - Powerful storm did not hit large population centers

By Updated at 2015-10-24 18:44:39 +0000

Patricia

Massive storm Patricia spares cities as it slams into Mexico's Pacific coast -
Powerful storm did not hit large population centers.

Hurricane Patricia appeared to have inflicted less damage than feared on Mexico's Pacific coast on Saturday, but little was known about the isolated shoreline, dotted with luxury villas and fishing villages, where the storm and its 165 mph (266 kph) winds landed.

Thousands of residents and tourists had fled the advance of the storm, one of the strongest in recorded history, seeking refuge in hastily arranged shelters. There were no early reports of deaths and it appeared major damage was averted as Patricia missed tourist centers like Puerto Vallarta and the major cargo port of Manzanillo.

However, phone lines remain down where the storm hit in Cuixmala, the site of one of Mexico's most exclusive getaways located between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, and it is unclear how bad the situation could be there.

Mowing down trees, flooding streets and battering buildings, Patricia hit land as a Category 5 hurricane on Friday evening before grinding inland. It moved quickly but lost power in the mountains that rise up along the Pacific coast and was downgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday morning as it headed through central Mexico.

In Puerto Vallarta, where 15,000 tourists had been hastily evacuated on Friday night, hotel workers began sweeping up the debris and removing boards from windows, as the sun peeked out of the clouds. The airport opened to start ferrying tourists back home and buses crowded the streets.

Away from the more populated areas, however, residents described awaking to a scene of chaos after a terrifying night.

"Around my house, the storm ripped up all the trees from the ground," said Eduardo Covarrubias, a restaurant-owner in the small town of La Union de Tula, about 125 miles (200 km) inland from Manzanillo. "It looked really ugly (when the storm arrived). Everyone was in real shock."

In its march north, Patricia was likely to make matters worse in Texas, which saw heavy rains overnight from a separate storm system that caused flooding powerful enough to knock over a freight train. Officials said moisture from Patricia would increase the intensity of rains swamping parts of the state by Sunday.

In Puerto Vallarta, most of the evacuated tourists had been able to return to their hotels on Friday night, officials said.

"I don't think there's going to be a big problem with the water," said Dario Pomina, 43, manager of the Posadas de Roger hotel in the center of Puerto Vallarta. "Things are more or less okay."

The city woke to light rain on Saturday and workers removed boards from windows. Public buses were up and running.

But residents of Las Juntas, a village where the Ameca and Mascota rivers meet about 6 miles (10 km) from Puerto Vallarta, were being evacuated on Saturday after a rapid rise in water levels overnight caused flooding, emergency services spokeswoman Veronica Diaz said.

Patricia's center hit land on Friday evening near the area of Cuixmala, located between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta and home to one of Mexico's most exclusive getaways, the U.S National Hurricane Center said.

The resort at Cuixmala was founded by Anglo-French financier Sir James Goldsmith and has played host over the years to a colorful assortment of world leaders, musicians and eccentric billionaires.

Maria Pavon, a Cuixmala reservations booker based in the inland city of Colima, said there were no guests staying when the storm hit as they all been evacuated. But there was no word yet on the state of the resort. She and colleagues had been unable to make contact as phone lines were down, Pavon said.

The area around Cuixmala is sparsely populated, but there are small towns, and it was not clear yet how much damage they had suffered.

At one point generating sustained winds of up to 200 mph (322 kph), Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Even though it lost some power before coming ashore, it was still a Category 5 storm, the strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Such storms are relatively rare and are capable of causing devastating destruction.

Patricia's ferocious core was relatively small, with hurricane force winds extending 35 miles (55 km) from the center, the Hurricane Center said. This meant Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo were spared the worst.

In Puerto Vallarta, Brian Shelley, a tourist from Chicago, rode out the storm eating burgers with other guests at a boutique hotel on a hill.

After talking one of his panicked traveling companions into staying, he was glad Patricia turned out to be less punishing than was feared. "I've seen bigger waves on normal days," he joked.

In Manzanillo, Ramona Delgado, 45, who manages an apartment block, spent the night in darkness at home with her two children, but said on Saturday morning the lights were back on.

"It scared us a lot, we thought Manzanillo was going to disappear," she said. "There are only fallen trees on our block."

RAPIDLY LOSES POWER

Once inland, Patricia rapidly lost power. By mid-morning on Saturday morning it had been downgraded to a tropical depression with its maximum winds down to about 35 mph (55 kph), the Miami-based Hurricane Center said.

The storm was located about 95 miles (155 km) northeast of the central city of Zacatecas, heading rapidly northeast at 24 mph (39 kph), the center said.

However, Patricia could still pose a flood threat. It was expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm), with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches (50 cm), over the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan, and Guerrero through Saturday, the center said.

In a brief televised address on Friday, President Enrique Pena Nieto said that "initial reports confirm that damage has been less than would be expected of a hurricane of this magnitude." But he urged Mexicans not to lower their guard yet.

The government cautioned that ash and other material from the volcano of Colima, some 130 miles (210 km) from Puerto Vallarta, could combine with heavy rainfall to trigger liquid cement-style mudflows.

Patricia became a tropical storm on Thursday and strengthened with stunning speed as it closed in on the Mexican coast. Meteorological authorities compared it to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed over 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013.

The strongest storm on record was Cyclone Tip which hit Japan in 1979.

(With reporting by Mexico City Newsroom; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Frances Kerry)

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