Mexico in state of emergency as record storm hits coast

President Pena Nieto urges thousands to stay in shelters amid early reports of landslides and flooding

Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, has slammed into Mexico’s Pacific Coast, threatening coastal areas with potentially catastrophic winds and rainfall.

Officials had warned of “potential catastrophic” consequences but early signs were positive as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the hurricane had caused less damage than feared.

Yet, in a televised message to the country almost five hours after Patricia crashed ashore in western Jalisco state, the president urged Mexicans to remain alert as the storm still posed a threat.

Al Jazeera meteorologist Everton Fox explains Hurricane Patricia

“With the information available up to now and taking into account that the [weather] phenomenon is ongoing, the first reports confirm that the damages have been smaller than those corresponding to a hurricane of this magnitude,” he said.

“However, it’s important for the population to remain in shelters,” Pena Nieto added. “We can’t let our guard down yet. I insist, the most dangerous part of the hurricane has yet to enter the national territory.”

There were early reports of flooding and landslides, but no word on fatalities or major damage. TV news reports from the coast showed some toppled trees and lamp posts and inundated streets.

Patricia’s centre made landfall in a relatively low-populated stretch of the Jalisco state coast near Cuixmala. The nearest significant city, Manzanillo, was about 85km southeast – outside the scope of the storm’s maximum-strength winds.

EXPLAINED: Hurricane Patricia breaks several records

The storm made landfall Friday evening as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph.

But by early Saturday morning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Patricia was downgraded to a Category 2 storm, rapidly losing steam while over a mountainous region inland from the shore.

Thousands evacuated

Prior to Patricia’s arrival, Mexican authorities declared a state of emergency for 56 municipalities. 

The strengthening winds on Friday prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents and tourists and a rush for emergency supplies.

The NHC said the storm was the strongest ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, and the World Meteorological Organisation compared it to 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands in the Philippines. 

Al Jazeera’s meteorologist Everton Fox said the risks from the hurricane included intense flooding, with between 200mm and 500mm of rain expected to fall in some areas. Strong storm surges and 14-metre waves were also expected to batter the coastline.

Fox said the storm strengthened at an incredible rate from Thursday into Friday.

“In the space of only 36 hours it went from a weak tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane,” he said.

In the hurricane’s path lie a patchwork of exclusive getaways favoured by tech billionaires and pop stars, as well as package vacation resorts, a major cargo port and modest fishing villages.

Thousands of residents and tourists have been evacuated into shelters from affected areas along Mexico's coast [AP]
Thousands of residents and tourists have been evacuated into shelters from affected areas along Mexico’s coast [AP]

Ramping up their warnings as the storm drew closer, Mexican officials said the unprecedented hurricane could wreak catastrophic damage.

“The hurricane is so strong that it could cross the country’s two Sierra Madre mountain ranges, the two most mountainous regions, and come out the other side of the country along the Gulf of Mexico and head to the United States,” said Roberto Ramirez, the head of federal water agency, Conagua.
Al Jazeera’s John Holman, reporting from the coastal resort town of Puerto Vallarta, said officials have evacuated as many people as possible and set up shelters in schools to deal with the hurricane’s aftermath. 

“The ongoing threat will be once the storm passes. A lot of the homes in coastal villages are built of wood or dry mud and when the hurricane passes it is going to leave a lot of devastation.”

A flooded roadway in Dallas, Texas [AP] 
A flooded roadway in Dallas, Texas [AP] 

North of the border, the National Weather Service has placed much of the US state of Texas under a flash flood watch on Saturday.  

Heavy rains that brought a flood threat to northern and central parts of the state are expected to spread into South Texas as a stalled cold front causing the downpours is reinforced by remnants of Patricia.

The torrential rains are expected to continue through the weekend.

Hurricanes are known as typhoons in the Northwest Pacific and cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. 

Hurricane Patricia, a category 5 storm, is seen approaching the coast of Mexico in a NOAA satellite image [Reuters]
Hurricane Patricia, a category 5 storm, is seen approaching the coast of Mexico in a NOAA satellite image [Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies