A “potentially catastrophic” Category-5 hurricane is moving quickly through the Pacific Ocean and is predicted to pound western Mexico’s shores on Tuesday, according to the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Although Hurricane Willa is expected to lose force by the time it makes landfall, NHC said it will likely remain a major storm of Category-3 intensity and could produce “life-threatening flash flooding and landslides over much of southwestern and west-central Mexico”.
The hurricane is expected to pass over or near the Islas Marias – a set of islands about 96km offshore that includes a nature preserve and a federal prison – early on Tuesday, then blow ashore in the afternoon or the evening between the resort town of Mazatlan and San Blas, a distance of about 220km.
The governments of Sinaloa and Nayarit states ordered coastal region schools to close and have begun preparing emergency shelters.
Mazatlan, with a metropolitan-area population of about 500,000, is a popular holiday spot. The hurricane’s projected track also included Esquinapa, a town a few miles inland with almost 60,000 people in and around it.
As of midday on Monday, Willa was centred about 215km south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes and was moving at 11km/h.
Hurricane-force winds extended 45km from the storm’s centre, and tropical storm-force winds were up to 1,650km out.
Farther to the south, another storm, Tropical Storm Vicente, weakened but was still expected to produce heavy rainfall and flooding over parts of southern and southwestern Mexico.