Hurricane Patricia: Fears of Landslides In Mexico As Storm Brings Downpours

…Storm is weakening but the worst is yet to come, warns Mexico’s president as reports of flooding and landslides come in before nightfall

imageHurricane Patricia hit Mexico’s Pacific coast on Friday night, bringing downpours, surging seas and cyclonic winds, but has since weakened, with the main concern moving to fears of landslides caused by heavy rain.

Four hours after making landfall in a relatively unpopulated stretch of Pacific coast, Patricia was downgraded to a category four hurricane and then to a category two storm.

The hurricane was now a category one storm, with winds weakening to about 75 mph (120 kph) and was centred about 50 miles (80km) south-southwest of Zacatecas, Mexico. Heavy rain continue to fall.

It moved past Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest metropolis, late on Friday night, with strong winds and heavy rain bringing trees down and causing flash flooding across the city.

At 10pm the National Hurricane Centre said: “Now that Patricia has moved inland, while the coastal threat is decreasing, strong and damaging winds, especially at higher elevations, will persist through Saturday morning.

“Very heavy rainfall is likely to cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero through Saturday.”

Mexican authorities received reports of some flooding and landslides but there was no immediate word of fatalities or major damage as the storm moved over inland mountains after nightfall. Mudslides are a big concern now as the torrential rain continues.

The latest weather alerts warn of heavy rains as far inland as Mexico City. Dozens of people were killed by mudslides in Guerrero during hurricane Manuel in 2013.

The president, Enrique Peña Nieto, led a cabinet meeting late on Friday to discuss safety measures. He warned people to stay alert to the dangers and urged the thousands seeking shelter in refuges to stay put and not go home yet.

Guadalajara’s government set up 12 shelters for residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods and warned people to stay indoors until the hurricane had passed. Guadalajara’s mayor, Enrique Alfaro, hailed the “good news” that the city was not hit as badly as some had feared.

Mexico’s transportation secretary, Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, said officials had been bracing for the worst and were “not declaring victory” just yet.

Patricia’s centre made landfall in an area of Jalisco state with few towns. The nearest big city, Manzanillo, was outside the extent of the storm’s hurricane-force winds.

Record wind speeds peaking at 200mph (320kph) measured earlier in the day reduced to 165mph (270kph) upon landfall, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said, but it warned Patricia was still an extremely dangerous storm.

Earlier, Hector Castro, a 31-year-old biologist from the town of Bucerías just north of Puerto Vallarta, told the Guardian he had seen no signs of damage or casualties two hours after hurricane Patricia made landfall, although he feared the worst was yet to come.

“A little while ago not a leaf was shaking, then suddenly everything started moving. The wind is up and the rain is heavier,” he said. “There’s absolutely no one in the streets. People are really scared here.”

Kristina Villacorta, a 35-year-old hotel safety consultant from Spain who works in the Banderas Bay where Puerto Vallarta is located, said she had spent the evening holed up in an apartment with friends after boarding up the windows and stocking up on water and canned goods.

“We’re fearing the worst but we’re trying to make the best of things,” she said more than an hour after the storm made landfall to the south. “At the moment we’re calm but we know it could get worse. We’re waiting because it seems like the eye of the storm still hasn’t passed through this zone.”

Most of the tourists at local hotels have been evacuated, Villacorta said, with the remainder taking refuge in improvised shelters in hotel basements and conference rooms decked out with pillows and mattresses. “I think all the hotels here have followed the appropriate protocols and have everything under control.”

Villacorta also praised the Mexican authorities, stating: “The truth is they’ve done a very good job keeping us informed over the last three days about the precautions we have to take.”

Hurricanes and tropical cyclones frequently pummel the coasts of Mexico and Central America between June and December each year, and the worst-affected areas are often mountain communities which are most vulnerable to floods and mud slides.

The most deadly storm in recent years was hurricane Manuel which battered the Pacific coast in September 2013. It left 123 dead, most as a result of heavy rains, especially in mountainous areas. At least 97 were killed in the poor southern state of Guerrero, including 71 by a mudslide which destroyed nearly half of the village of La Pintada. Seventeen deaths were reported in the popular beach town of Acapulco.

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