By David Alire Garcia
Hurricane Patricia strengthened into one of the most powerful storms in history on Friday as it barreled toward Mexico’s Pacific Coast, forcing resort hotels to evacuate guests and residents to stockpile supplies.
The National Hurricane Center said Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, and on a par with Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which ravaged the Philippines, killing thousands.
Loudspeakers along the shore of the resort of Puerto Vallarta blared orders to evacuate hotels as a light rain fell and a slight breeze ruffled palm trees. The streets emptied as police sirens wailed.
The city’s airport was closed on Friday morning. Local schools were also closed and some business owners were busy boarding and taping up windows.
“Everything looks normal right now, but the most dangerous things will be strong waves and rains. We’ll definitely have to take precautions. We’re going to a shelter shortly,” said David Gonzalez, 40, who works in tourist gift shop in the resort.
The NHC said the damage potential was “catastrophic”.
The storm grew at an “incredible rate” in the past 12 hours, the World Meteorological Organization said, becoming a hurricane overnight with maximum sustained winds of about 200 miles per hour (325 km per hour) as it moved toward the north-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).
“This is really, really, really strong,” WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “It’s comparable with Typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines with such devastating affect a couple of years ago.”
“The winds are enough to get a plane in the air and keep it flying,” Nullis said.
Haiyan killed more than 6,300 people and wiped out or damaged practically everything in its path as it swept ashore on Nov. 8, 2013, destroying around 90 percent of the city of Tacloban.
The strongest storm ever recorded was Cyclone Tip which hit Japan in 1979.
Patricia was last located about 145 miles (235 km) south-southwest of the port of Manzanillo, where a hurricane warning had been issued. A hurricane warning was also in effect for the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta.
It is a Category 5 hurricane, the highest rating possible, and was expected to make landfall as an “extremely dangerous” storm on Friday afternoon or evening, the Miami-based hurricane center said earlier.
Mexican emergency officials prepared shelters and warned people in the states of Colima, Jalisco and Michoacan to prepare for torrential rainfalls.
The U.S. government issued an advisory urging its nationals to steer clear of beaches and rough seas and to take shelter as instructed by Mexican officials.
Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo are key cargo ports, and both were shut as the storm approached, port officials said.
None of the major installations of Mexican state oil company Pemex lie in the projected path of the storm.