Hurricane Willa weakens to Category 4, aims for Mexico

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Willa has weakened slightly to a Category 4 storm as it tracks toward the Mexican coast south of Mazatlan.

Storm could cause flash floods and landslides, affecting major tourist areas on west coast

This image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Willa in the eastern Pacific on a path to smash into Mexico's western coast. (NOAA via AP)

A potentially catastrophic Hurricane Willa swept toward Mexico's Pacific coast with winds of 250 km/h Monday, threatening a stretch of high-rise resort hotels, surfing beaches and fishing villages.

After briefly reaching Category 5 strength, the storm's maximum sustained winds weakened slightly to Category 4 by midafternoon. But it remained "extremely dangerous" and was expected to bring "life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall" to parts of west-central and southwestern Mexico, ahead of an expected Tuesday landfall, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane was expected to pass over or near the Islas Marias — a set of islands about 95 kilometres offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison — early Tuesday, then blow ashore in the afternoon or the evening between the resort town of Mazatlan and San Blas, a distance of about 220 km.

(CBC News)

It was projected to weaken somewhat before hitting land, but was still expected to be extremely dangerous.

The governments of Sinaloa and Nayarit states ordered coastal region schools to close and began preparing emergency shelters.

Mazatlan, with a metropolitan area population of about 500,000, is a popular vacation spot. It is closer to the U.S. than most other Pacific resorts and home to a large number of American and Canadian expatriates.

The hurricane's projected track also included Esquinapa, a town a few miles inland with almost 60,000 people in and around it.

By midafternoon, Willa was centred about 175 kilometres west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes and moving north at 13 km/h. 

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Willa could bring 15 to 30 centimetres of rain — with up to 45 centimetres in some places — to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.

Farther to the south, tropical storm Vicente weakened but was still expected to produce heavy rainfall and flooding over parts of southern and southwestern Mexico.