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AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
A worker boards up the front of a waterfront business in Puerto Vallarta.

Mexico braces for heavy damage as the most powerful hurricane in recorded history makes landfall

By Ana Campoy

This post has been updated.

The strongest hurricane ever seen in the western hemisphere hit Mexico tonight (Oct. 23), with residents and aid groups bracing for massive destruction from high winds that are expected to cause flooding, landslides, and damage from flying debris. The eye of Hurricane Patricia made landfall 55 miles (85 kilometers) west-northwest of the port city of Manzanillo.

As it crossed over land, the record-setting hurricane weakened from its peak strength, with maximum sustained winds near 160 mph (260 kmh), according to the US National Hurricane Center said. That still makes Patricia a category 5 hurricane— among the most powerful to ever make landfall in recent years—which is capable of “life-threatening flash floods and mud slides” and “an extremely dangerous storm surge,” the NHC said.

Mexican authorities declared a state of emergency (link in Spanish) in three states and dozens of municipalities in the path of the storm.  The Red Cross told Quartz it has deployed 150 rescue workers and supplies like blankets and food to the areas expected to be hit the hardest. Another 350 are on stand-by.

The group is working with the Mexican military, the Mexican Marine, and public safety agencies at federal and local levels to prepare for the massive storm.

“I hope that we don’t have a single dead person,” Commander Isaac Oxenhaut, national first aid coordinator for Red Cross, told Quartz.

That will depend in large part on whether people in the hit areas heed the warnings to take cover, added Oxenhaut, who is running the Red Cross’s efforts from Puerto Vallarta.

It appeared many did, with the streets around the Red Cross’s building nearly deserted by early afternoon and at least 17 families lodged at the Red Cross shelter in Puerto Vallarta, he said.

 

Meanwhile, government workers in big cities like Guadalajara were cleaning street drains and canals to minimize flooding, officials said during a press conference. Classes were cancelled in the entire coastal state of Colima. In Jalisco state, mayors urged citizens to cancel parties, weddings, and other events Friday night and stay home.

In the municipality of Puerto Vallarta, which includes the resort town of the same name, 50,000 residents (Spanish) had been evacuated by Friday afternoon, Mexican magazine Proceso reported.  Some tourists in Puerto Vallarta were apparently stranded after their hotels send them to the convention center instead of out of town.

Half of the 15,000 tourists (Spanish) in the neighboring state of Nayarit would likely be evacuated to Guadalajara before the storm hit, Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid told Milenio TV, a national news outlet, Friday morning.

As they watched Hurricane Patricia’s menacing approach on radar, Mexicans in the path of the storm were getting ready to hunker down:

“Starting at 2 pm there will be no water or electricity service, so be ready with water buckets and charge your cell phone.”

Guests at the “romantic adults-only resort” Secrets Vallarta Bay were evacuated ahead of Patricia’s arrival:

Some were starting to feel the first effects of Patricia: TV and cable service were out in Puerto Vallarta, per this tweet:

Many who took to Twitter said they were shaken by the stillness before the storm, one likening the experience to the beginning of 2012, a sci-fi natural-disaster movie starring John Cusack.

“I feel like I’m in 2012 the movie. There’s so much calm that your skin crawls, calm ocean, motionless trees.”

But Patricia’s impending arrival didn’t keep others away from the beach.