Patricia roars into Mexico, quickly weakens on shore

Posted at 4:23 PM, Oct 24, 2015

(CNN) — The remnants of Hurricane Patricia dropped heavy rain over central Mexico on Saturday, a day after pounding coastal luxury resorts and impoverished villages alike as a Category 5 storm that uprooted trees, toppled power lines and unleashed mudslides.

Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded at sea, weakened slightly before striking southwestern Mexico’s coast Friday evening with crushing 165-mph sustained winds.

By late Saturday morning, Patricia had been downgraded to a tropical depression, sapped by mountainous terrain, with 35-mph sustained winds. It’s expected to dissipate Saturday night. There were no reports of fatalities or major damage.

Mexican officials had expressed cautious optimism overnight, with President Enrique Peña Nieto saying “damages have been minor to those corresponding to a hurricane of this magnitude.”

But officials expected to know more about the full scale of the destruction after touring the coast Saturday, and serious flooding and mudslide threats remain.

“We as government are not supposed to mention faith and God but the only thing I can tell you is that God helped and watched over us so this monster of a hurricane did not hurt us here in Nayarit and in Mexico,” Roberto Sandoval, governor of Nayarit state, told CNN en Español.

In the coastal municipality of Cihuatlan, not far from where Patricia made landfall, Dr. Antonio Abad tended to more than two dozen patients who suffered cuts from falling branches and chunks of rooftops. But he marveled there weren’t more serious injuries given the storm’s intensity.

Two babies were delivered at the small hospital in the Mexican state of Jalisco, a boy Friday night and, at 5 a.m. Saturday, a girl whose parents refused to name Patricia.

“The parents were asked about naming her after the storm but they said they had gone through too much trouble with Patricia already,” Abad said.

‘Worst went to the mountain areas’

At a small clinic in the neighboring community of Melaque, nursing chief Luis David Ramirez said workers had spent the morning outside removing mud and picking up fallen branches.

“We expected a much bigger disaster,” he said. “We believe God helped us through this monster hurricane. We’re still here.”

Airports had reopened in Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Colima and Tepic on Saturday, according to Communications and Transport Minister Gerardo Ruíz Esparza. There was no major damage to regional ports. Schools are expected to reopen Monday.

“There are no victims, dead or hurt,” he said. “Prevention has saved lives.”

Officials said Patricia moved through a sparsely populated and mountainous stretch of the coast, avoiding the Puerto Vallarta resort and the port city of Manzanillo.

“We are fortunate the hurricane … went to the mountain areas,” Ruíz Esparza said. “The wind and water hit us but our infrastructure was able to withstand that hit. The worst went to the mountains.”

More than 10,000 people, including local residents and tourists, were evacuated to safe areas on Friday but most had returned, officials said.

More than 11 inches of rain had already fallen by early Saturday near the inland Nevado de Colima volcano in Jalisco state, Mexico’s meteorological agency said, and forecasters said 8 to 20 inches of rain could fall in several Mexican states through Saturday.

“It is very important that the population stays in the shelters, the security forces will be patrolling to protect their homes,” Peña Nieto said. “I repeat, we still can’t let our guard down.”

‘The rain is intense’

Patricia landed 55 miles west-northwest of Manzanillo, home to the largest container port on Mexico’s Pacific seaboard.

In Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, tourists and residents alike sought shelter. It struck land near Cuixmala, a 25,000-acre private estate of beach, jungle and nature reserves.

“I’m a little worried,” said Carlos Cisneros, an estate worker staffing the phones Friday night. “The rain is intense and the wind picks up at times for about five minutes, then subsides. It comes and goes.”

Cisneros said there were mandatory evacuations in nearby communities where landslides were possible, but he and others at the sprawling estate had to come to work.

“It’s not so bad right now,” Cisneros said. “I took a risk.”

‘Losing everything’

Patricia was expected to be a huge challenge for the nation, said Anthony Perez, a representative of Save the Children in Mexico City.

“We have these wonderful luxurious tourist destinations, but then there’s half the population that’s living in different degrees of poverty,” he said.

“A lot of these homes, especially in the rural areas, are made of flimsy materials. With the wind being so strong and then there being so much rain … many of these families will probably be losing everything.”

Ahead of landfall, Patricia spun in the Pacific with sustained winds of 200 mph — the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic or eastern North Pacific. By landfall the strongest sustained winds are estimated to have dropped to 165 mph — still stronger than 1992’s devastating Hurricane Andrew, which hit south Florida with estimated sustained winds of 145 mph.

Patricia’s intensity at landfall appears to have been lower than that of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013. More than 6,000 people died in Haiyan, due largely to enormous storm surges that rushed through coastal areas. Haiyan had 195 mph sustained winds when it made landfall.

Dangerous surf, flash floods

In addition to powerful winds, there are fears of dangerous storm surges like those that overran the Filipino city of Tacloban during Haiyan.

“Residents in low-lying areas near the coast in the hurricane warning area should evacuate immediately, since the storm surge could be catastrophic,” the National Weather Service said.

Rainfall of 8 to 12 inches — and possibly 20 inches in some spots — “could produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” it said.

It means millions of people are under threat.People line up to buy food and water in Puerto Vallarta on October 23.

Mexican officials said over 1,780 shelters had been set up for more than 240,000 people. About 3,500 people from a small island off the coast of Colima state remained in shelters.

In addition, a 50,000-strong force had been mobilized in Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit, and at least 4,000 Mexican navy officers dispatched to at-risk areas.

Patricia is special, in part because of the weather phenomenon known as El Niño.

Among other effects, El Niño has contributed to ocean waters off Mexico being 2 to 3 degrees warmer than usual.

“That warm water from El Niño probably just pushed this slightly over the edge to be the strongest storm on record,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Courtesy CNN.

Courtesy CNN.

 CNN’s Faith Karimi, Jason Hanna, Radina Gigova and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.