Hurricane Hilary barreled towards Mexico’s Baja California peninsula early on Sunday, the US National Weather Service said, as the hurricane, which was downgraded to Category 1, was still likely to bring “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding to the region.
Meteorologists warned that despite weakening, the storm with a speed of 85mph (137kmph) – down from 90mph (145kmph) – remained treacherous as it headed towards the southwestern US as a tropical storm.
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Forecasters said the storm was still expected to enter the history books as the first tropical storm to hit southern California in 84 years, bringing flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, strong winds and power outages.
Authorities have issued an evacuation advisory for Santa Catalina Island in the US, urging residents and beachgoers to leave the tourist destination 37km (23 miles) off the coast.
Hilary brought heavy rain and flooding to Mexico and the southwestern US on Saturday, before its expected Sunday border crossing.
‘Does not lessen the threat’
Forecasters warned it could dump up to 250mm (10 inches) of rain – a year’s worth of rainfall for some areas – in southern California and southern Nevada.
“This does not lessen the threat, especially the flood threat,” Jamie Rhome, the US National Hurricane Center’s deputy director, said during a Saturday briefing to announce the storm’s downgraded status.
“Don’t let the weakening trend and the intensity lower your guard.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency, and officials urged people to finish their preparations before sunset on Saturday. It would be too late by Sunday, one expert said.
One person drowned on Saturday in the Mexican town of Santa Rosalia, on the peninsula’s eastern coast, when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream. Rescue workers managed to save four other people, said Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of Mulege township.
It was not immediately clear whether officials considered the death related to the hurricane, but a video posted by local officials showed torrents of water coursing through the town’s streets.
The hurricane is the latest climate disaster to wreak havoc across the US, Canada and Mexico.
Hawaii’s island of Maui is still reeling from last week’s blaze that killed more than 100 people and ravaged the historic town of Lahaina, making it the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century. In Canada, firefighters on Saturday continued to battle blazes during the nation’s worst fire season on record.
Meteorologists also expected the storm to churn up “life-threatening” surf and rip currents, including waves up to 12 metres (40 feet) high, along Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Dozens sought refuge at storm shelters in the twin resorts of Los Cabos at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, and firefighters rescued a family in San Jose del Cabo after the resort was hit by driving rain and wind.
Mexico’s navy evacuated 850 people from islands off the Baja coast and deployed almost 3,000 personnel for emergency operations.
In La Paz, the picturesque capital of Baja California Sur state on the Sea of Cortez, police patrolled closed beaches to keep swimmers out of the whipped-up surf.
Across the region, municipalities ran out of free sandbags and grocery shelves emptied out as residents stockpiled supplies.
The US National Park Service closed California’s Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve to keep visitors from becoming stranded amid flooding.
Major League Baseball rescheduled three Sunday games in southern California, moving them to Saturday as part of split doubleheaders, and SpaceX delayed the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket from a base on California’s central coast until at least Monday.
The White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the latest preparedness plans in advance of the hurricane’s turn to the US.
“I urge everyone, everyone in the path of this storm, to take precautions and listen to the guidance of state and local officials,” he said.