MANZANILLO (Mexico) • Giant Hurricane Patricia roared towards Mexico's Pacific coast yesterday, prompting the authorities to evacuate villagers, close ports and urge tourists to cancel trips over fears of a catastrophe. The US National Hurricane Centre called Patricia the strongest eastern north Pacific hurricane on record.
It said Patricia grew into a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm in the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds rising to 325kmh.
The storm was expected to strike the coast yesterday afternoon or evening, the Miami-based centre said. Forecasts show Patricia will make landfall in the western state of Jalisco, near the neighbouring state of Colima. The region includes the major port of Manzanillo in Colima and Jalisco's tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, which Mexican officials said could face a direct hit.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are possible, but Patricia is expected to remain an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane through landfall," the US centre said.
Some businesses boarded up their store windows in Manzanillo as rain began to fall in the city.
"Better be safe than sorry. Hurricanes are unpredictable," said Mr Enrique Esparza, manager of El Gran Mueble furniture store, which is near the seafront.
Ms Rosa Elba Figueroa, a housewife, left a supermarket with a bag full of canned tuna, powdered milk, bread, water and batteries. "We are running home to put wood and tape on the windows," she said.
Mr Jose Maria Tapia Franco, director of the National Disaster Fund, said 400,000 people live in vulnerable areas but that the local authorities will decide whether to conduct evacuations.
At the beach village of Boca de Pascuales, the authorities took 70 people to a shelter, while another 30 drove to the homes of relatives further inland.
"We are patrolling communities on the coast in the Puerto Vallarta area as well as Melaque and La Huerta, urging the most vulnerable population to get to safety," Jalisco state civil protection director Jose Trinidad Lopez Rivas told Foro television.
Mexican officials closed schools in Jalisco, Colima and Guerrero states. Two dams in Jalisco and Michoacan were being drained to prevent flooding. Ports closed to small boats in several ports in the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The port of Acapulco in Guerrero was shut for larger ships.
At 0530 GMT (1.30pm Singapore time), Patricia was 295km south of Manzanillo and moving north-west at 17kmh, according to the US forecasters. Patricia is expected to produce 15cm to 30cm of rainfall accumulation over the states of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero, which could produce flash floods and mudslides, the US centre said.
A dangerous storm surge could also cause coastal flooding, accompanied by large and destructive waves, it warned.