MAZATLAN, Mexico: Thousands of people were evacuated, buildings were boarded up and schools closed on Mexico’s Pacific coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Willa threatened to batter tourist resorts with high winds and heavy rains.
Residents on Monday night sealed off windows and doors with large wooden planks on hotels facing the historic downtown boardwalk of Mazatlan, a popular coastal city in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.
Willa, which was a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, was blowing maximum sustained winds of around 209km/h on Tuesday morning with higher gusts, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said.
Forecast to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, Willa was expected to weaken a bit before striking a few miles south of Mazatlan as soon as Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday morning the storm was about 241km south-southwest of Mazatlan, the hurricane centre said. Waves lapping at the city’s beaches had picked up but there was little wind so far.
Several other tourist getaways in the state of Nayarit, as well as the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state, also lie near the path of the storm, which is forecast to bring a “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall”, the hurricane centre said.
Nayarit Governor Antonio Echevarria said more than 10,000 people were being evacuated and schools would be closed. He warned locals not to defy the storm.
“Let’s not play the macho,” he said. “Let’s not act like superheroes. It’s a very strong hurricane, very potent, and we don’t want any tragedies.” At a gas station on the outskirts of Mazatlan, a steady line of cars waited to refuel and shop at the neighbouring convenience store on Monday night.
Station attendant Zulema Pardo said residents had been streaming through for hours to stock up on basic items, buying enormous jugs of water and gasoline, and leaving the bread shelf completely empty.
“People are really scared,” she said. “People are crazy and worked up.” Mexico’s civil protection agency said on Twitter that families should move into nearby temporary refuges if necessary.
Up to 45cm of rainfall could pummel parts of the storm zone, the hurricane centre said. Even buildings up to 500 metres from the coastline could lose power and suffer physical damage, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (SMN) said.
In some states, Willa’s menace is compounded by tropical depression Vicente, 89km south-southeast of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan state, on Tuesday morning, which is causing rain in parts of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero.
Going into Tuesday, some tourists appeared unfazed.
“It doesn’t ruin the pleasure of being here,” said vacationer Angel Avelar, popping open a beer while dangling his feet off the Mazatlan boardwalk. “Maybe things will be different tomorrow.”