Hurricane Patricia lashes Mexico coast, weakens as it moves inland

Hurricane Patricia struck Mexico's Pacific coast on Friday night with destructive winds that tore down trees, moved cars and forced thousands of people to flee homes and beach-front resorts. However, the early damage was not as bad as many had feared.

Category 5 hurricane expected to diminish to tropical storm overnight


  • Hurricane Patricia makes landfall near Cuixmala
  • Historically powerful storm has weakened slightly, but still a Category 5 hurricane
  • Ottawa urges Canadian tourists to flee approaching storm if possible, avoid area.
  • Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau says Canada ready to help Mexico
  • Some tourists allowed to return to hotel in Puerto Vallarta

Hurricane Patricia roared ashore in southwestern Mexico Friday evening, bringing lashing rains, surging seas and cyclonic winds hours after it peaked as one of the strongest storms ever recorded.

There were early reports of some flooding and landslides as the storm moved over inland mountains after nightfall. Television news reports from the coast showed some toppled trees and lampposts and inundated streets. Milenio TV carried footage of cars and buses being swept by floodwaters in the state of Jalisco.

But authorities said there were no immediate reports of fatalities or the kind of major, widespread damage feared earlier in the day when forecasters warned of a potentially "catastrophic" landfall.

"The first reports confirm that the damage has been less than those expected from a hurricane of this magnitude," President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a taped address late Friday. However, he added, "we cannot yet let our guard down."

Patricia's centre made landfall as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 270 km/h, but in a relatively low-populated stretch of the Jalisco state coast near Cuixmala. The nearest significant city, Manzanillo, was about 85 kilometres southeast and outside the zone of the storm's hurricane-force winds.

By late Friday, Patricia was rapidly losing steam but was still a major hurricane with winds at 215 km/h, the centre reported, just above the threshold for a Category 4.

Patricia's projected path headed over a mountainous region dotted with hamlets that are at risk for dangerous mudslides and flash floods, and where communications can be sketchy. The storm was expected to rapidly weaken over the mountains and dissipate Saturday, but it was still capable of soaking the region with heavy rain.

Visitors and residents weathered the hurricane in emergency shelters. State officials in Puerto Vallarta allowed about 200 tourists to return to two hotels after Patricia passed, though they recommended they stay at the shelter.

"The National Hurricane Centre in Miami has determined that this storm is the strongest storm ever seen on the American continent," said Roberto Ramirez, executive director of Mexico's National Water Commission, which includes the country's meteorological service. 

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tweeted as much Friday morning. A spokesperson for the UN's World Meteorological Organization said Patricia's wind speeds are equivalent to those needed for a jet airliner to take off and stay aloft. Category 5 is the highest on the Saffir-Simpson scale for hurricanes.

Despite its ferocity, it's still not the strongest storm recorded on the globe. In an interview with CBC News, Halifax meteorologist Jean Marc Coutier said while Patricia is the strongest tropical cyclone in decades, a northwest Pacific cyclone in 1955 had a wind maximum of 333 km/h.

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon, according to NOAA, but different names are used for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term "hurricane" is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a "typhoon" and in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean is called a "cyclone."

Homes reinforced with sandbags

Earlier in Puerto Vallarta, locals reinforced homes with sandbags and shop windows with boards and tape, and hotels closed beachfront restaurants. The airport was closed and all but deserted, but lines formed at a bus station by people anxious to buy tickets to Guadalajara and other inland destinations.

Fire trucks and ambulances rolled through the streets, sirens blaring, advising people to leave. 

Vacationers in Puerto Vallarta were being taken to various locations inland, including as far away as Guadelajara. Some customers of WestJet Vacations were frantically tweeting the Canadian company to determine how they could catch their scheduled return flights home or whether a plane would be sent sooner to bring them back.

In Ottawa, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau issued a statement, saying "Canadians' thoughts are with the Mexican people."

​"Canada stands ready to support the people of Mexico, who I know will continue to exhibit their characteristic courage and resilience in the days ahead," Trudeau said.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs spokesman John Babcock said in a news release the government was advising against all travel to the coast of Mexico from San Blas to Lazaro Cardenas. Babcock estimated there could be as many as 2,000 Canadians in the area.

Patricia formed suddenly Tuesday evening as a tropical storm, turned into a hurricane just over a day later and kept growing in strength, catching many off guard.

Patricia's power was comparable to, if not slightly greater than, that of Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 dead or missing in the Philippines two years ago, according to the UN's World Meteorological Organization. More than four million people were displaced and one million houses destroyed.

An employee boards up the windows of a restaurant as Hurricane Patricia approaches the Pacific beach resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Friday. (Henry Romero/REUTERS)

According to the 2010 census, there were more than 7.3 million inhabitants in Jalisco state and more than 255,000 in Puerto Vallarta municipality. There were more than 650,000 in Colima state, and more than 161,000 in Manzanillo.

Earlier in the day, evacuations were under way in Puerto Vallarta, with officials taking people to 14 shelters, mostly in schools.

Civil protection official Daniel Garcia was dressed as a lifeguard in his red swimsuit and yellow poncho with a flotation device slung over his shoulder as he walked the Puerto Vallarta waterfront, advising everyone to move at least three blocks from the water.

Previous hurricanes have seen streets fill with sand and flying stones, he said. Most businesses were closing, but authorities were concerned because some business owners told employees to stay put as a security measure.

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio told Mexico's Radio Formula that officials are especially worried about the safety of people in Puerto Vallarta and the nearby community of Bahia de Banderas, in Nayarit state.

​Three airports in Patricia's path were shut down: Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Tepic, in Nayarit.

Hurricane centre spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Patricia also poses problems for Texas. Forecast models indicate that after the storm breaks up over land, remnants of its tropical moisture will likely combine with and contribute to heavy rainfall that is already soaking Texas independently of the hurricane, he said.

A fisherman checks his boat in Acapulco, Mexico, on Thursday, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Patricia. (Claudio Vargas/Reuters)

With files from Reuters and CBC News