Thousands of people yesterday were evacuated, buildings boarded up and classes canceled on Mexico’s Pacific coast 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 state of Sinaloa, as tourists strolled nearby and palm trees swayed in a light breeze.
Forecast to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in the past few years, Willa was expected to strike a few miles south of Mazatlan as soon as yesterday afternoon.
At a gas station on the city’s outskirts, a steady line of cars lined up to refuel and shop at the neighboring convenience store.
Station attendant Zulema Pardo said that 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.”
Late on Monday, the storm was advancing about 130km west of Las Islas Marias Islands opposite Nayarit, the state south of Sinaloa, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
Several other tourist getaways in Nayarit, as well as the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco, also lie near the path of the storm, which is forecast to bring a “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall,” the hurricane center said.
Willa, classified a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, was blowing maximum, sustained winds of about 225kph on Monday night, the center said.
Headed northward, Willa is forecast to weaken after hitting the coast, it said.
More than 10,000 people were being evacuated and schools would be closed, Nayarit State Governor Antonio Echevarria said, adding that locals should not defy the storm.
“Let’s not play the macho. Let’s not act like superheroes,” he said. “It’s a very strong hurricane, very potent, and we don’t want any tragedies.”
Sinaloa also canceled classes in much of the state.
Up to 45cm of rainfall could pummel the storm zone, the center said.
Even buildings up to 500m from the coastline could lose power and suffer physical damage, the Mexican National Meteorological Service said.
Despite the looming threat, 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 boardwalk. “Maybe things will be different tomorrow.”
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