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Hurricane Patricia makes slow-motion assault on Mexico coast

Police and fire units combed the Mexican resort community of Puerto Vallarta Friday morning, urging people to flee Hurricane Patricia, which has been called the strongest storm ever seen on the continent. David Alire Garcia of Reuters talks to Judy Woodruff from a makeshift shelter in Puerto Vallarta about the preparations and evacuations ahead of landfall.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A storm for the ages is blasting ashore on Mexico's West Coast tonight. Hurricane Patricia has the strongest sustained winds ever recorded in this part of the world, and it spent in the day in a slow-motion assault on the mainland.

    Sirens blared and lights flashed as police and fire units combed Puerto Vallarta this morning, urging people to flee the popular Mexican Pacific beach resort. The storm burst to life Tuesday, and, by last night, it topped the scale, with winds of 200 miles an hour, prompting dire descriptions from Mexico's weather service.

  • ROBERTO RAMIREZ, Director, Mexico’s National Water Commission (through interpreter):

    The National Hurricane Center in Miami has determined that this storm is the strongest storm ever seen on the American continent.

    Additionally, some international experts have already noted that this hurricane is the most powerful hurricane that has ever existed on the planet in all of history.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All told, a hurricane warning stretched along more than 300 miles of Mexico's Pacific Coast. The storm's track had its center heading between the bustling port city of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta tonight.

    Heavy rain started falling last night, and today people hurried to board up windows, as crews filled sandbags. The region's airports closed, and tourists rushed to check out and catch flights.

  • WOMAN:

    I'm just worried, because, if we don't get out of here — and we drove into town to get out, which is not the direction we wanted to go. So, if we don't make the flight, then we're — we are riding it out here.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Forecasters said the hurricane will start weakening tomorrow, as it passes inland moving north toward Texas. The remnants will add to heavy rains already battering the Lone Star State from another weather system.

    More than 2.5 inches fell at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport yesterday, breaking a record set in 1908.

  • MAN:

    There she goes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And to the west, flooding at a mobile home park picked up trailers and carried them away.

    Today, the mayor of Houston appealed to people to keep an eye on what's coming.

  • MAYOR ANNISE PARKER, Houston:

    We really encourage folks to, once the rain starts, just stay home and stay off the roads.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Patricia is already being compared with Typhoon Haiyan that left more than 7,300 dead or missing in the Philippines two years ago. And, today, as waves pounded the Mexican coast, one expert warned, "It's looking like a very bad disaster is shaping up."

    We get an on-the- ground dispatch from a makeshift storm shelter in Puerto Vallarta.

    David Alire Garcia is there for Reuters. I spoke with him by Skype late this afternoon as the hurricane moved closer to landfall.

    David, thank you for talking with us.

    First of all, tell us where you are and what are the state of preparations there?

  • DAVID ALIRE GARCIA, Reuters:

    Well, I'm in Puerto Vallarta. I'm in the Univa Catholic university campus, which is a makeshift shelter.

    Wasn't supposed to be a shelter, but because of problems with other nearby shelters, particularly a big convention center and risks of flooding, this was opened up. And now there's about 500 people here, a mix of tourists, but also many locals as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about the state of preparations in that area, Puerto Vallarta?

  • DAVID ALIRE GARCIA:

    Well, the local government, the state government, the municipal government opened up more than a dozen shelters. There have been problems with some, like I just mentioned a second ago, that have been opened and then closed because of worries that they're too close to rivers.

    The authorities are everywhere here. They're trucking in people. Just a little while ago, there were a handful of trucks that arrived. I think this shelter is about at its capacity. But there are thousands of folks who need shelter, and it's not entirely clear that all of them are going to get that.

    But it seems like the authorities are — you know, if you listen to radio or TV, there's all kinds of announcements that people find shelter and find someplace safe and get off the streets.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It still appears, though, that this storm has formed very, very quickly, that it wasn't really until late last night that people understood the gravity of it.

    Do you think — is it your sense that people have evacuated who needed to evacuate?

  • DAVID ALIRE GARCIA:

    I think so.

    Just earlier, I was driving around the tourist part of Puerto Vallarta, and there are — you know, it's a ghost town. Windows are boarded up. Windows are taped up. There's sandbags at the hotels protecting storefronts, bars, restaurants. Of course, it's a big tourist hub here.

    So it seems like there is a lot of preparation going on. Time will tell if it really is adequate for the storm that's about to arrive.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, as I speak to you, it's just a little after 4:00 Eastern. It looks like the weather is still pretty calm right now.

  • DAVID ALIRE GARCIA:

    You know, that's the crazy thing right now is that there is barely a tiny drizzle, that there is hardly any wind, if you can see behind me. Right, actually, here, there's a lot of folks taking refuge here.

    And the weather conditions at the moment are not that bad, but, of course, you know, things are projected to get a lot worse, particularly the winds, which could have caused a lot of damage and have caused damage. There was a big hurricane here over — a few years back that many people still remember that did cause lots of damage because of flying debris.

    And so I think that's one of the main worries, in addition to flooding in the low-lying areas here in Puerto Vallarta, that most people are concerned about.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we hope you and everyone else is able to stay safe.

    David Alire Garcia, we thank you.

  • DAVID ALIRE GARCIA:

    Thank you.

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