A potential catastrophic Hurricane Willa swept toward Mexico’s Pacific coast with winds of 145 mph (230 kph) Monday night, threatening a stretch of high-rise resort hotels, surfing beaches and fishing villages.
Farther south, Mexican officials reported 12 deaths related to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Vicente.
After briefly reaching Category 5 strength, Willa’s maximum sustained winds weakened some. But it remained “extremely dangerous” and was forecast to bring “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall” to parts of west-central and southwestern Mexico ahead of an expected Tuesday landfall, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Hotel workers started taping up windows, and officials began evacuating people and shuttered schools in a low-lying landscape where towns sit amid farmland tucked between the sea and lagoons. A decree of “extraordinary emergency” was issued for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states, the federal Interior Department announced.
Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state.
The hurricane was expected to pass over or near the Islas Marias – a set of islands about 60 miles (96 kilometres) offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison – early Tuesday.
Forecasters said Willa would then blow ashore in the afternoon or evening somewhere along a 140-mile (220-kilometre) stretch extending from the resort town of Mazatlan to San Blas.
It was projected to weaken somewhat before hitting land but was still expected to be extremely dangerous.
Yamile Bustamante, assistant general manager at the Crown Plaza de Mazatlan, said hotel executives were not ruling out the possibility of evacuating guests but were awaiting instructions from authorities.
The governments of Sinaloa and Nayarit ordered coastal region schools to close and began preparing emergency shelters.
Enrique Moreno, mayor of Escuinapa, a municipality of about 60,000 people on Willa’s track, said officials were trying to evacuate everybody in the seaside village of Teacapan. He estimated 3,000 were affected but he expected some would try to stay.
“The people don’t want to evacuate, but it’s for their security,” he said.
About 60 miles (100 kilometres) up the coast in Mazatlan, with a metropolitan-area population of about 500,000, Mayor Jose Joel Boucieguez said officials prepared shelters and were closely monitoring low-lying areas. Mazatlan is a popular vacation spot and home to a large number of American and Canadian expatriates.
Late Monday, Willa was centred about 85 miles (140 kilometres) southwest of the Islas Marias and 195 miles (310 kilometres) south-southwest of Mazatlan. It was moving north at 9 mph (15 kph).
Hurricane-force winds extended 35 miles (55 kilometres) from the storm’s centre, and tropical storm-force winds were up to 125 miles (205 kilometres) out.
The U.S. hurricane centre warned that Willa could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimetres) of rain – with up to 18 inches (45 centimetres) in some places – to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.
Farther south, Tropical Storm Vicente weakened and was expected to dissipate soon, but it still dropped heavy rainfall that caused dangerous flooding in southern and southwestern Mexico.
Officials in Oaxaca state said seven adults and five children had lost their lives in drownings or mudslides.