Hurricane Patricia has caused less damage than expected so far after making landfall on Mexico's Pacific coast. But Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto warned that the storm continued to pose a threat.
Hurricane Patricia was downgraded from being one of the strongest storms of all time to a tropical depression on Saturday as it moved inland over mountainous western Mexico. The hurricane had started as a tropical storm but then grew into a record-beating category 5 hurricane within 30 hours. At its height, meteorologists measured wind speeds of more than 200 mph (325 kph).
Patricia made landfall close to the town of Cuixmala, near the city of Manzanillo. Following initial reports of flooding and landslides along low-lying coastal areas the storm swiftly moved inland. There were no reports of fatalities but the threat of floods following the storm surge remained. Director of the National Disaster Fund Jose Maria Tapia Franco had said that 400,000 people lived in vulnerable areas in the hurricane's path.
Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto warned that floods and rainfall could still pose serious threats after Patricia made landfall in the state of Jalisco last night
Authorities had relocated coastal residents, evacuated tourists from beach resorts in the region and closed sea ports, airports and schools in several states before Patricia made landfall in Jalisco state. Federal officials said that 3,500 people were evacuated from the resort town of Puerto Vallarta by bus and plane alone, while more than 6,300 people spent the night in shelters in Jalisco. Meanwhile tens of thousands of US tourists were also cited to be among those in the hurricane's path, according to US officials.
But five hours after making landfall, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto addressed the nation on television, saying that the first reports "confirm that the damages have been smaller than those corresponding to a hurricane of this magnitude."
Pena Nieto urged Mexicans to stay in shelters, warning that Patricia still posed a threat, with heavy rain expected across several regions. Patricia was expected to still dump up to 51 centimeters (20 inches) of rain over five western Mexican states, which could trigger life-threatening flash floods as well as mudslides.
Earlier in the week, warm waters in the Pacific Ocean accompanied by high levels of humidity had provided the perfect fuel for what meteorologists refer to as explosive intensification. Crosswinds restrained the system's drive initially, leaving it to gain strength overnight only on Thursday.
Coastal areas in Mexico's Jalisco state were largely spared aside from trees being uprooted, while thousands of people sat out the brunt of the hurricane in shelters
The meteorological phenomenon known as El Nino, created whenever warm ocean waters develop around the equatorial Pacific over a sustained period of time, only exacerbated the wind gusts. Patricia had initially been classified as a tropical storm off Mexico with 65 mph (105 kph) winds - not even strong enough to be classified as a Category 1 hurricane. But it strengthened quickly, surprising forecasters around the world.
"Incredible. You don't see many like this," former hurricane hunter meteorologist Jeff Masters said.
"In fact in the Western Hemisphere, we've never seen anything like this."
Patricia will likely be a tropical storm by the time it reaches the US, but might regain momentum over the Gulf of Mexico
Still menacing for United States
Patricia was the ninth Category 5 storm this year, which is tied for the second most on record. Average years feature around five to six. The eastern and northern Pacific regions have had more tropical storms than usual this season; the Atlantic has had less. Most hurricanes in the continental US tend to affect states around the Gulf of Mexico.
Strong winds and torrential rain associated with the hurricane have already affected Texas, where the Formula One Grand Prix is due to be held on Sunday. Mexico is to hold the next round of the competition next weekend.
But the National Water Commission said Patricia was "so big and intense" that it could cross the entire country, reach the Gulf of Mexico, and make landfall in the United States next week.
ss/rc (AFP, AP)