Saturday, October 24, 2015
Hurricane Patricia fades to tropical depression over northern Mexico
Hurricane Patricia pushed quickly over small hamlets in mountainous western Mexico early Saturday as it tracked northward and weakened to a tropical depression from a record-breaking Category 5 storm while dumping torrential rains that spurred fears of major flooding and deadly mudslides.
Patricia hurtled towards Mexico as the strongest hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere and made landfall Friday on an isolated stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coast--avoiding direct hits on the resort haven of Puerto Vallarta and major port city of Manzanillo.
There were initial reports of flooding and landslides, but no word of fatalities or major damage as the hurricane moved over the mountains overnight. Television news reports from the coast showed toppled trees and lampposts, and barren streets. Some highways were blocked by mudslides. Milenio TV showed footage of cars and buses being swept by floodwaters in the state of Jalisco.
"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. He added, however, that "we cannot yet let our guard down."
Patricia faded to a tropical depression by midmoring Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph and was expected to dissipate further inland. The eye of the storm was about 95 miles northeast of Zacatecas.
Remnants of the storm were feeding rains over southern Texas.
Puerto Vallarta heaved a collective sigh of relief Saturday morning to find itself largely unscathed by Patricia.
People snapped selfies next to an iconic sculpture overlooking the sea and business owners swept sidewalks as they would on any morning. There were puddles downtown, but nothing more than a passing thunderstorm might leave.
Tourist Brandie Galle of Grants Pass, Oregon said she had been sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. When the city was not feeling any major effects from the storm two hours after landfall, workers let them out to eat at a hotel restaurant.
"They said it looked like the storm had hit below us," she said. "Everyone is starting to perk up a little bit but still kind of on edge waiting to see what's going to happen with the storm."
Galle said some guests had paid her $400 to desperately get out of the city into Guadalajara, 120 miles away.
The airports in Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Tepic were closed Friday, but officials announced an air bridge Saturday to ferry stranded travelers out of areas hit by the storm.
Residents and tourists had hunkered down in shelters and homes along a coastal stretch dotted with sleepy fishing villages and gleaming resorts. In Puerto Vallarta, residents had reinforced homes with sandbags and shop windows with boards and tape, and hotels rolled up beachfront restaurants.
The Sokols, a family of five from suburban Detroit, were supposed to fly out of Puerto Vallarta on Friday but ended up for hours in a shelter at a university after their flight was canceled. By night they were back where they began: at their hotel, and no worse for wear.
"It's amazing it went from the worst in history to just some heavy rain," Susanna Sokol said, noting that at least the hurricane gave her daughter a birthday to remember.
"It was pretty stressful for a while," Tom Sokol said. "I felt guilty for taking my kids here."
Patricia formed in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday as a tropical storm and quickly strengthened to a hurricane. Within 30 hours, it had grown to a Category 5 storm. The strength of the storm caught many off guard with its rapid growth.
By Friday afternoon, it was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit that side of the Earth. It had a central pressure of 880 millibars and maximum sustained winds of 200 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Patricia's power while still out at sea was comparable to that of Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 dead or missing in the Philippines two years ago, according to the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization. More than 4 million people were displaced and over 1 million houses were destroyed or damaged in 44 provinces in the central Visayas region, a large cluster of islands.
Mexican officials declared a state of emergency in dozens of municipalities in Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco states, and schools were closed. Many residents bought supplies ahead of Patricia's arrival. Authorities opened hundreds of shelters and announced plans to shut off electricity as a safety precaution.
The U.S. National Weather Service said a flash flood watch would be in effect through Sunday morning for Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.
A coastal flood warning was in effect through Friday night in Corpus Christi. Galveston was under a coastal flood advisory until Saturday night.