Hurricane Patricia spares Mexico the worst of its fury

A resident picking her way through the wreckage of her house in Casimiro, Mexico, after Hurricane Patricia struck. The record-breaking hurricane, however, caused relatively little damage and no deaths were reported.
A resident picking her way through the wreckage of her house in Casimiro, Mexico, after Hurricane Patricia struck. The record-breaking hurricane, however, caused relatively little damage and no deaths were reported.PHOTO: REUTERS

CHAMELA (Mexico) • Patricia flattened a fishing hamlet on Mexico's Pacific coast, but the authorities were relieved to see that the record-breaking hurricane largely spared the country and dissipated as it moved north.

The wood-and-brick homes, with tin and palm-leaf roofs, of 40 families in the village of Chamela were blown away when Patricia made landfall as a Category 5 monster in Jalisco state late on Friday. The families survived because they had evacuated to a shelter before its landfall.

The villagers returned to pick up the pieces on Saturday and complained that the government had not provided any help. "We have nothing. My property's gone," said Ms Griselda Hernandez, looking at the space without walls or roof that used to be her home.

While the residents of Chamela lost nearly everything, most of the region - incredibly - suffered relatively little damage and the authorities rejoiced that no deaths were reported.

President Enrique Pena Nieto lifted the hurricane alert for Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit states as he visited the region, saying that the damage was "smaller than expected".

"Maybe (the warnings) were exaggerated, but it's better to be warned," said Mr Ruben Fregoso, a restaurant owner who reopened his business in the popular resort of Puerto Vallarta after the storm. Seafront hotels in Puerto Vallarta were cleared of their guests before Patricia's arrival, while thousands of tourists were evacuated by bus or plane, many taken to shelters.

But the town saw little damage in the end.

Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said Mexico was saved because the population was well-prepared and the hurricane was slowed by the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. "We were lucky that the impact was diverted" towards the mountains, he said. "Nature was kind-hearted."

Mr Pena Nieto said around 3,500 homes were "partially or completely affected" while electricity was restored to half of the 235,000 people who lost power. He did not specify how the homes were affected.

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.

But Patricia struck with 270kmh winds, slowing as it collided with mountains. Almost 24 hours after it made landfall, the United States National Hurricane Centre said it degenerated into a remnant low with 45kmh winds.

Heavy rains fuelled by the meeting of two storm systems, one the remnants of Patricia, pounded south-eastern Texas, triggering flash floods and derailing a freight train as the heavy weather descended on Houston early yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Hurricane Patricia spares Mexico the worst of its fury'. Print Edition | Subscribe