MONTERREY, Mexico — Tens of thousands of people were being evacuated Friday from Mexico’s Pacific coast as the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere bore down on the popular tourist area packing sustained winds of 200 mph.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted the Category 5 Hurricane Patriciawould make a “potentially catastrophic landfall” in southwestern Mexico later in the day.
The center described the storm as the most powerful ever recorded in the eastern Pacific or Atlantic basins. It warned of powerful winds and torrential rain that could bring life-threatening flash flooding and dangerous, destructive storm surge.
“Patricia is one of the strongest tropical cyclones globally ever observed,” said WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue, “based on lowest central pressure and maximum surface (and flight level) wind speed since the dawn of aviation-based reconnaissance in the 1940s.”
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) October 23, 2015
Patricia’s winds intensified a whopping 109 mph during Thursday, rising from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane. It was the fastest intensification ever recorded in the eastern Pacific Ocean, according to meteorologist Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University. Roberto Ramirez, director of Mexico’s National Water Commission, said Hurricane Patricia is powerful enough to lift up automobiles and destroy homes not sturdily built with cement and steel. The storm will also be able to drag people caught outside when it strikes. Those on the coast will be in the most danger, especially people living in the state of Jalisco, which has a population of more than 7.3 million, he said. In a Category 5 hurricane, a high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse, according to the hurricane center. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months, and most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. At 11 a.m. ET, Hurricane Patricia was 125 miles southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico, moving to the north at 10 mph, the hurricane center said. The storm is expected to remain an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane through landfall, the agency said. A total of 50,000 people were expected to be evacuated ahead of the storm, according to civil protection agencies in the three Mexican states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit, Vallarta Daily reported.
Those regions house the port city of Manzanillo and the town of Puerto Vallarta, a resort town with a large expatriate community from the U.S. and Canada. According to the 2010 census, there are more than 650,000 inhabitants in Colima state, more than 161,000 in Manzanillo and more than 255,000 in the Puerto Vallarta municipality. Mexican officials declared a state of emergency in dozens of coastal towns, including Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, and ordered schools closed Friday, the Associated Press reported. The city of Puerto Vallarta established 18 shelter locations to house evacuees, and some businesses began boarding and taping up windows late Thursday.
Patricia is expected to make landfall near an area of beach towns known as the Costa Alegre between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, where locals says there’s been an eerie calm. “It’s a beautiful morning in my neighborhood,” said Jane Gorby, a California native who has lived for 15 years in the town of La Manzanilla. She said the severity of the pending storm snuck up on residents in a region used to hurricanes, and left them scrambling for a potentially unprecedented event. “People were complacent, blasé, cavalier, but there’s never been a storm like this before,” Gorby says. “It’s been a (Category) 1, 2, 3, 4. Now I wake up and it’s a 5.” Gorby, like most residents, planned to ride out the storm in La Manzanilla, last hit hard by Hurricane Jova in 2011. “I have tequila. I have cat food. I have things to calm my nerves,” she said. “I don’t know how you prepare for something like this.” At a Wal-Mart in Manzanillo, shoppers filled carts with non-perishables as a steady rain fell outside. Veronica Cabrera, shopping with her young son, said the town tends to flood easily with many small streams overflowing their banks, AP reported.
She said she had taped her windows at home to prevent them from shattering. Alejandra Rodriguez, shopping with her brother and mother, was buying 10 liters of milk, a large jug of water and items like tuna and canned ham that do not require refrigeration or cooking. The family already blocked the bottoms of the doors at their home to keep water from entering. Manzanillo’s “main street really floods and cuts access to a lot of other streets. It ends up like an island,” Rodriguez said. The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization said in a tweet that Patricia was comparable in intensity to Typhoon Haiyan. That storm left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in the Philippines two years ago.
In 2011, Jova made landfall as a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane in Jalisco, Mexico, killing nine people. Last year, powerful Hurricane Odile slammed into the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, killing 11 people. Odile was the most intense landfalling hurricane in the Baja since 1970. While Hurricane Patricia should weaken rapidly over the mountainous terrain of Mexico, its remnants will continue to produce heavy rain in central parts of the country and into Texas over the weekend.