Hurricane Grace battered eastern Mexico with torrential rain on Saturday, causing severe flooding and mudslides that killed at least eight people, authorities said, after it became one of the most powerful storms in years to hit the country’s gulf coast.
Grace was whipping up maximum sustained winds of 201km per hour (125 miles per hour), a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, when it slammed into the coast near the resort town of Tecolutla in Veracruz state in the early morning.
The state government said eight people were killed by Grace, including six from one family. All but one of the victims died in the state capital Xalapa, including a young girl killed by a mudslide that hit her home, the government said.
Meanwhile, an adult was killed by a collapsed roof in the city of Poza Rica further north in the state, Veracruz Governor Cuitlahuac Garcia told a news conference.
“The state of emergency has not ended,” he added.
Small fishing towns and beach resorts were drenched with rain as Grace made its second landfall in the country in two days.
Fishermen pulled their boats out of the water and carried them inside harbours to prevent damage as the storm’s leading edge whipped at the coast, while merchants boarded up the windows of their businesses to protect them.
Local television showed severe flooding in Xalapa, with coffins from a local business floating down a waterlogged street. The nearby River Actopan burst its banks, shutting down a local highway, state authorities said.
Grace also caused power cuts and brought down trees. Images posted on social media showed damage to buildings and cars submerged by the deluge of rain the storm brought.
Garcia said several rivers in Veracruz would flood, and urged the local population to take cover.
Television footage also showed flooding in Ciudad Madero in the southern reaches of the state of Tamaulipas near the border of Veracruz. Mexican state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos’s (Pemex) Francisco Madero refinery is in Ciudad Madero.
Mexico City’s international airport said some flights were cancelled due to the hurricane. National power utility the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) reported 565,000 electricity users were affected by outages.
Grace weakened as it moved inland but the National Hurricane Center warned of a dangerous storm surge – when seawater is pushed above its normal tide levels – as the hurricane struck.
By 7am CDT (12:00 GMT), it was a Category 1 storm with top winds of 150kmph (90mph). The centre was about 100km (60 miles) east-northeast of Mexico City, the Miami-based centre said.
Before Grace hit land, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged people in five states to seek shelter on high ground.
“I ask the people of the regions of Veracruz, Puebla, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas and Hidalgo to seek refuge in high places with relatives and in shelters that are being set up,” Lopez Obrador said on Twitter.
Me sumo al llamado que se está haciendo de pedir a la gente de la región de Veracruz, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas e Hidalgo que busque refugio en partes altas con familiares y en albergues que se están instalando.
— Andrés Manuel (@lopezobrador_) August 21, 2021
Thousands of emergency workers from the civil protection service, the military and the CFE were prepared for Grace, he said.
Through Sunday, the NHC forecast Grace would dump 150-300mm (6 to 12 inches) of rain over swaths of eastern and central Mexico, and up to 450mm (18 inches) in some areas. The heavy rainfall would likely cause areas of flash and urban flooding, it said.
In Tecolutla, residents spent hours on Friday afternoon taking hundreds of boats onto land to keep them safe.
“Here in Tecolutla, we’ve had a culture of prevention for many years,” said Ricardo Pardinas, who offers boat tours to tourists. “These weather phenomena have caused damage.”
Veracruz and its waters are home to several oil installations, including state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos’ port in Coatzacoalcos and the Lazaro Cardenas refinery in Minatitlan in the south of the state. Grace hit land well to the north of these cities.
The hurricane was expected to weaken to a tropical storm by Saturday afternoon, the NHC said.
Earlier in the week, Grace pounded Mexico’s Caribbean coast, downing trees and causing power outages for nearly 700,000 people, but without causing loss of life, authorities said.
The hurricane hit early on Thursday near Tulum, a Yucatan resort town famed for its Mayan ruins. Some families passed harrowing hours sheltering from cracking trees and flying debris.
As the storm approached, Carlos Gonzalez grabbed his toddler son and ran from his home with his wife to a shelter set up at a school, using his mobile phone light to find his way through darkened streets.
“The only thing I have left is what I’m wearing,” the construction worker said. “I knew my house wasn’t going to stand it because it’s made of cardboard. When the wind came I was really scared and decided to leave.”
There were no reports of deaths, but many streets were blocked by fallen limbs and trees that pulled down power lines, leaving thousands in the dark Thursday.
It also doused Jamaica and Haiti, still reeling from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, with torrential rain.