Mexicans express relief as once-ferocious Hurricane Patricia weakens

Los Angeles Times

When word came that the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere was about to hit, Liliana Ramon Garcia and her five children headed for the place they thought would be the safest: their small apartment at Aquatic Jungle, the water park where they are caretakers.

Even there, though, “It felt like the gazebo was going to come down,” the 34-year-old woman recalled hours later on Saturday.

As the record winds from Hurricane Patricia slowed, the damage here, was less severe then had been feared. Umbrellas and plastic chairs were strewn about, signs were shredded and the pools overflowed with dirty rainwater.

“We'll be open again in a week,” she promised.

Across Mexico, residents and tourists exhaled in relief and began cleaning up after the remnants of Hurricane Patrica blew across the country heading toward Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Packing record 200 mph winds and rated a Category 5 storm before coming ashore, Patricia hit the tourist-rich west coast with winds of 165 mph on Friday. Less than 16 hours later, it had eased to a tropical depression with winds of just 35 mph.

Rain continued to be a major concern in the Mexican mountains and for Texas, where eight to 12 inches were predicted and some spots could receive as much as 20 inches, according to meteorologists.

The National Hurricane Center warned of flash flooding and mudslides in areas where as many as 10 million people could still have to deal with the watery fallout.

Like many on the day after, Francisco Javier Rincon Manzo, 16, returned to his family's roadside fruit stand Saturday, but found that much of it had been blown away -- the apples, watermelons and bananas gone. He had spent the night hunkered down with family members in this inland town.

“We heard the winds screaming,” he said. “Roofs were flying. Tree branches too.” It lasted more than four hours. His family's roof stayed on, he said.

Omar Rojas from the local Civil Protection office said the most serious damage was that a few stalls lost their roofs and some trees were uprooted.

“There’s been no loss of life,” Rojas said via telephone. “The river is high and there has been some flooding, but nothing very serious.”

In a tweet, Aristoteles Sandoval, the governor of the state of Jalisco, warned that there were “significant injuries but fortunately no loss of life to mourn.” No other details were immediately available.

Mexico had prepared for the worst, with officials warning people to stay indoors and brace for Patricia, which made landfall in a lightly populated area, avoding direct hits on the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and the major port of Manzanillo. Both the warnings and the sparse population helped in keeping down the damage.

Patricia had surprised weather analysts with how quickly it grew, mushrooming from a tropical storm Thursday to a Category 5 hurricane by Friday morning, more than doubling in power and speed in less than 24 hours. Meteorologists said it was almost a perfect example of rapid intensification as warm Pacific waters and a calm upper atmosphere fueled its growth.

In less than 16 hours, what was a dangerous storm when it hit the coast had broken apart to an unnamed tropical depression moving across the mountains of Mexico.

The mountains were a key reason why the storm dissipated, Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told The Times. “These mountains disrupted the storm system, and they just tore it apart.

“It is also no longer over water, which is like fuel for hurricanes,” he said.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the bulk of the storm was near Zacatecas late Saturday afternoon.

“These rains are likely to produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the center said. At risk were parts of the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero through Saturday.

On Saturday morning, the Mexican tourist resorts in Colima and Jalisco were reported to be calm and free of serious damage in what Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid described as a stroke of “extraordinary luck.”

Fallen lampposts, trees and billboards, accompanied by some flooding, appeared to be the extent of the damage in coastal communities. No deaths had been reported.

Jose Trinidad Lopez, director of Civil Protection in Jalisco, said Saturday morning: “We have no reported deaths. In Puerto Vallarta, we have reports that all is calm, hotels are operating normally, the infrastructure wasn’t damaged and both national and international tourists are safe.”

But Trinidad Lopez emphasized that it was still early to know the full impact of storm.

“Many people remained in their homes in high-risk zones, and it’s too soon to know what happened to all of them,” he said.

After dawn Saturday morning, Civil Protection groups across Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit were on patrol, assessing the damage in their states.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was expected to visit damaged communities, according to the newspaper Reforma.

Special correspondent Bonello reported from Mexico City. Staff writers Zarembo reported from Cihuatlan and Muskal from Los Angeles.

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