Hurricane flattens Mexico homes, but major disaster averted

A street in Barra de Navidad, Jalisco state, partially destroyed after Hurricane Patricia hit the shore on Oct 24, 2015.
A street in Barra de Navidad, Jalisco state, partially destroyed after Hurricane Patricia hit the shore on Oct 24, 2015.AFP

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (AFP) - Patricia flattened dozens of homes on Mexico’s Pacific coast, but authorities said Saturday the record-breaking hurricane largely spared the country as it weakened to a tropical depression.

Dozens of modest homes in the village of Chemula were blown away by Patricia’s powerful winds after it made landfall in Jalisco state late Friday.

The villagers survived the hurricane because they evacuated before landfall, which occurred just 20km to the south.

Officials said no casualties have been reported.

“So far, there are no reports of major damage from #Patricia. Our gratitude to all for your thoughts, prayers and actions #PrayForMexico,” President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter.

Patricia tore down trees, triggered some flooding and caused minor landslides elsewhere in Jalisco and neighbouring Colima state.

But soldiers began cleaning up streets, while regional airports reopened and highways were cleared of obstacles.

The major Mexican cargo port of Manzanillo was set to reopen at 4pm on Saturday (5am on Sunday Singapore time), a port official said. Lazaro Cardenas and Puerto Vallarta ports reopened earlier on Saturday.

Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza praised the Mexican people for preparing well for the hurricane’s assault.

“If we hadn’t had this response, we would have had other incidents,” Esparza told a news conference in Jalisco.

“We were lucky that the impact was diverted” to a mountain region that slowed down Patricia’s winds, he said.  “Nature was kind-hearted.”

 

In Jalisco, which bore the brunt of the hurricane, some rivers rose, damaging a bridge and some 250 homes in one community of 600 people, said state government secretary general Roberto Lopez Lara.

“All the forecasts predicted the worst,” Lopez Lara said. “We do not have any deaths.”

RAIN THREAT REMAINS

But authorities urged Mexicans to remain on alert as Patricia continued to produce rain on its path north.

Patricia was expected to produce up to 51cm of rain over the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan, and Guerrero, which could produce flash floods and mudslides.

Patricia gradually lost steam as it moved further inland overnight, but a “heavy rain threat continues,” the US National Hurricane Centre said.

The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and then a depression as it moved northeast in Zacatecas in the morning, with maximum sustained winds of 55kmh, according to the US centre.

Forecasters had warned of a “potential catastrophe” after Patricia’s winds peaked at 325kmh on Friday.

That was more powerful than the 315kmh winds of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 dead or missing when it struck the Philippines in November 2013.

THREAT EXAGGERATED?

But residents of the popular beach resort of Puerto Vallarta breathed a sigh of relief as the town, where thousands of tourists had been staying, avoided a catastrophe.

“We were really anxious yesterday, but the worst has passed,” said Francisco Javier Quintero, a 60-year-old shopkeeper who returned to his morning ritual of chatting with friends on a seafront bench.

Quintero took his family to his sister’s house on higher ground as a precaution while he stayed in their home for fear of burglaries.

“Maybe (the warnings) were exaggerated, but it’s better to be warned,” said Quintero’s friend Ruben Fregoso, a restaurant owner who reopened his business after the storm.

Seafront hotels were cleared of their guests, while thousands of tourists were evacuated by bus or plane, many taken to shelters.

In the major port of Manzanillo, Colima state, soldiers shoveled sand off the city’s main boulevard while residents, some riding around in bicycles, surveyed damage that included uprooted trees and street signs.

“For being the most powerful hurricane in the world, I think we came out okay,” said Cristian Arias, the 30-year-old owner of the seafood restaurant El Bigotes, whose balcony was broken and garage damaged by Patricia.

“It was a wave that broke everything and dumped sand on the boulevard behind the restaurant.”