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Thursday 14 November 2019

Hurricane Patricia downgraded to tropical depression over Mexico

A couple walks along the waterfront under a steady rain as rainfall increases with the approach of Hurricane Patricia in Puerto Vallarta (AP)
A couple walks along the waterfront under a steady rain as rainfall increases with the approach of Hurricane Patricia in Puerto Vallarta (AP)

Record-breaking Hurricane Patricia appeared to leave remarkably little damage as it moved inland over western Mexico and weakened to tropical depression status, but authorities warned it could still cause deadly floods and mudslides.

Patricia, which peaked as the strongest hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere, made landfall on Friday on a sparsely populated stretch of Mexico's Pacific coast as a Category 5 storm, avoiding direct hits on the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and major port city of Manzanillo.

There were reports of some flooding and landslides, but no word of fatalities or major damage as the storm pushed across inland mountains while bypassing the metropolis of Guadalajara overnight.

Residents of the coast where Patricia came ashore on Friday night described an enraged sea that crashed into hotels, scooping beach away from their foundations, and howling winds that toppled trees and telephone posts.

"The waves were coming into the hotel," said Domingo Hernandez, a watchman at the Hotel Barra de Navidad in the resort village of the same name in Jalisco state.

"All the streets here in town are full of downed trees all over the place," said Mr Hernandez, who described Patricia as the strongest storm he has seen in a quarter century of living on the coast.

"You have to make your way around all the downed telephone poles, the power lines, the trees."

President Enrique Pena Nieto issued a taped address late on Friday, noting that while initial reports indicate damage has been less than those expected, "We cannot yet let our guard down."

The US National Hurricane Centre said Patricia had weakened to a tropical depression by midday on Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 35mph. Remnants of the storm were expected to feed existing rainstorms hitting southern Texas.

Patricia was centred about 95 miles north-east of Zacatecas and it was moving to the north-east at 24mph.

Tourist Brandie Galle, of Grants Pass, Oregon, said she had been sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. When 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.

Ms Galle said some guests desperate to leave had earlier paid 400 US dollars (£261) for taxis to drive them 120 miles to the inland city of Guadalajara.

The airports in Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Tepic were closed on Friday and residents and tourists had hunkered down in shelters and homes along a coastal stretch dotted with sleepy fishing villages and gleaming resorts.

The Sokols, a family of five from suburban Detroit, were supposed to fly out of Puerto Vallarta on Friday but ended up in a shelter at a university after their flight was cancelled.

"It's amazing it went from the worst in history to just some heavy rain," Susanna Sokol said.

Patricia formed suddenly on Tuesday as a tropical storm and quickly strengthened to a hurricane. Within 30 hours it had zoomed to a Category 5 storm, catching many off guard with its rapid growth.

By Friday it was the most powerful recorded hurricane to hit the hemisphere, with a central pressure of 880 millibars and maximum sustained winds of 200 mph, according to the National Hurricane Centre.

One of the worst Pacific hurricanes to ever hit Mexico slammed into the same region, in Colima state, in October 1959, killing at least 1,500 people, according to Mexico's National Centre for Disaster Prevention.

Patricia also threatens Texas, where flooding already has caused a train derailment. Forecasters said that even after Patricia breaks up, its tropical moisture will likely feed heavy rains already soaking the state.

PA Media

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