Hurricane Patricia: Flood Threat for Millions but Winds Weaken

This satellite image taken at 1:45 p.m. EDT on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, and released by NASA, shows the eastern quadrant and pinhole eye of Hurricane Patricia moving towards southwestern Mexico. The Category 5 storm is strongest ever in the Western Hemisphere, according to forecasters. (NOAA GOES Project/NASA via AP)

Rescue workers were awaiting daybreak Saturday to assess the damage from Hurricane Patricia after it slammed into western Mexico, dumping torrential rains that threatened to cause deadly floods.

Howling winds battered trees, flooded streets and tore down power lines in coastal areas.

There were no immediate reports of deaths from the record-setting storm, which rapidly weakened to a Category 1, but Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto warned it was too early to tell, telling the nation in a televised address: “We still can’t lower our guard.”

Millions remained in the path of Patricia, which the National Hurricane Center said was centered about 50 miles southwest of Zacatecas, Mexico at 5 a.m. ET and was expected to weaken further to a Tropical Depression.

After peaking as one the strongest hurricanes on record, it made landfall late Friday and local television pictures showed cars and buses being swept by floodwaters in the state of Jalisco amid maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.

However, the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and port city of Manzanillo appeared to have escaped major damage, according to early reports.

“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,” tourist Brandie Galle of Grants Pass, Oregon, told The Associated Press from the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, where she had been sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows.

Then 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.

Galle said some guests desperate to leave had earlier paid $400 for taxis to drive them the 120 miles to the inland city of Guadalajara because airports in Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Tepic were closed.

Hurricane Patricia was a category 5 and had 165 mph winds when it made landfall near Cuixmala, west-northwest of Manzanillo, at 6:15 p.m. local time (7:15 p.m. ET). Palm trees bent and rain whipped in sideways as the storm made its first appearance on land.

“The winds are really strong. It’s amazing, even the cars are moving,” Laura Barajas, a 30-year-old hotel worker from the major cargo port of Manzanillo near where the storm hit, told Reuters.

Jalisco Gov. Aristóteles Sandoval late Friday that 6,333 people were in shelters.

A strong storm surge, accompanied by massive waves, near the coast could intensify the flooding. The Mexican national water commission, CONAGUA, said waves could swell to up to 40 feet.

Hurricane Patricia quickly grew in intensity Thursday, and on Friday data from Air Force planes measured wind speeds of more than 200 mph, making it the strongest storm ever recorded.

At that point, the World Meteorological Organization compared the storm to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013.

The storm weakened as it made landfall, but it was still the strongest to ever hit Mexico’s west coast. Patricia is the third strongest storm in Mexico’s history, said NBC meteorologist Bill Karins.

The U.S. Department of State called the storm “extraordinarily dangerous” and urged the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visiting or living in the hurricane warning area to avoid the coast and heed all evacuation warnings.

“If you are in the hurricane warning area, make preparations immediately to protect life and property,” said the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

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