Hurricane Patricia toppled trees and battered buildings after crashing into western Mexico Friday evening, but the Category 5 storm, which was briefly rated as the strongest hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere, skirted major cities and caused much less damage than feared.
On Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Patricia had been downgraded to tropical depression, after sustained winds rapidly weakened from 200 mph over the Pacific Ocean to 35 mph over northern Mexico. No fatalities had been reported.
Heavy rains caused flooding in streets and thousands of residents and tourists had fled inland before Patricia plowed inland, but the storm largely spared cities in its path including Guadalajara and the seaside resort of Puerto Vallarta.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a big problem with the water,” Dario Pomina, the manager of the Posades de Roger hotel in the center of Puerto Vallarta, told Reuters. “Things are more or less okay.”
Mexican officials declared a state of emergency in dozens of municipalities Thursday night in preparation for the strongest hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere.
Hurricane Patricia intensified to a Category 5 storm, the highest classification on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with maximum sustained winds that reached 200 miles per hour. As of 5 p.m. EDT, Patricia’s strength weakened slightly in the past few hours with sustained winds of about 190 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm could make a “potentially catastrophic landfall” when it blows over southwestern Mexico between Manzanillo and Cabo Corrientes later Friday afternoon or evening. According to the latest advisory, the storm’s center is about 60 miles west of Manzanillo and is moving north-northeast at nearly 14 miles per hour.
Patricia’s strong winds and rain threaten catastrophic damage. The storm is expected to drop six to 12 inches of rain over Mexican states in its path. Heavy rainfall is also likely to cause life-threatening flooding and landslides and storm surges up to 39 feet, The Weather Channel reported.
Civil protection officials have been working with teams of police to evacuate people from the water’s edge of Puerto Vallarta and provide sandbags to protect buildings from flooding, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities closed schools in the Mexican states of Guerrero, Colima and Jalisco on Friday.
The hurricane is expected to break apart and weaken once it passes over Mexico’s mountainous terrain, but forecasters said the storm’s residual moisture could lead to heavy rainfall this weekend in already-drenched parts of Texas.
Hurricane Patricia is being compared to Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in 2013 and left more than 7,300 dead or missing in its wake and displaced another 4 million people, according to the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization. In Patricia’s path is the resort city Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, which houses Mexico’s busiest port.
The International Space Station captured footage of Hurricane Patricia at 12:15 p.m. EDT on Oct. 23, 2015 as the storm moved toward southwest coast of Mexico. Video by NASA.gov
Roberto Ramirez, the director of Mexico’s National Water Commission, told AP that the 161,000 inhabitants in Manzanillo now face the most danger from the hurricane.
Previously, an unnamed hurricane struck Manzanillo as a Category 5 hurricane on Oct. 27, 1959. It killed around 1,800 people.
Patricia strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in the span of 24 hours, the fastest-intensifying hurricane in the Western Hemisphere, Weather Underground reported. Forecasters said a combination of warm ocean waters and low wind shear, opposing winds that help disrupt hurricane formations, contributed to the storm’s rapid growth.