PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico • Patricia, one of the strongest ever hurricanes, crashed into western Mexico with rain and winds of up to 266kmh, hammering coastal areas but skirting major cities and causing less damage than feared.
Mowing down trees, flooding streets and battering buildings, Hurricane Patricia plowed into Mexico as a Category 5 storm last Friday evening before grinding inland. It rapidly lost power in the mountains that rise up along the Pacific coast and was downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday.
So far, it appeared that major damage had been averted because the powerful storm did not hit large population centres.
Around 15,000 tourists had been hurriedly evacuated from the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta as people scrambled to get away from the advancing hurricane, whose massive swirl over Mexico could be seen clearly from space. "It sparked chaos here. It ruined a lot of things, took down the roof, lots of trees. Things are in a bad state where we work," said Mr Domingo Hernandez, a hotel worker in the resort of Barra de Navidad near the major port of Manzanillo.
Thousands of residents and tourists ended up in improvised shelters, but there were no early reports of fatalities and many felt they had escaped lightly.
The storm hit land near the area of Cuixmala, home to one of Mexico's most exclusive getaways, on Friday evening, the US National Hurricane Centre said.
Cuixmala, located between the major port of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, has over the years played host to a colourful assortment of world leaders and eccentric billionaires. The area is sparsely populated but there are small towns, and it was not clear yet how much damage they had suffered.
At one point generating sustained winds of 322kmh, Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.
Even though it lost some power before coming ashore, it was still a Category 5 storm, the strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Such storms are relatively rare and are capable of causing devastating destruction.
Patricia's edges caused flooding in parts of Puerto Vallarta, but the resort escaped the worst of the storm and dozens of tourists were able to leave shelters and return to their hotels on Friday night.
"I don't think there's going to be a big problem with the water," said Mr Dario Pomina, 43, manager of the Posadas de Roger hotel in the city centre. "Things are more or less okay."
US tourist Brian Shelley rode out the storm eating burgers with other guests at a boutique hotel on a hill in Puerto Vallarta.
After talking one of his panicked travelling companions into staying, he was glad the storm turned out to be less punishing than was feared. "I've seen bigger waves on normal days," he joked.