Hurricane Willa weakens after slamming Mexico’s Pacific coast

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ESCUINAPA, Mexico, Oct 24, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Hurricane Willa crashed ashore
in western Mexico Tuesday, lashing the Pacific coast with powerful winds and
heavy rain before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland.

The powerful storm, which was a maximum Category 5 hurricane on Monday, had
weakened to Category 3 as it moved toward land.

Forecasters warned that the storm still had the potential to unleash deadly
flooding and landslides.

With the ground saturated by rain, “there could be mudslides, landslides,
flooding of rivers and creeks and washed out roads,” Mexico’s national
weather service said.

However, storm surge levels will subside over the course of Wednesday and
Willa is expected to dissipate by the afternoon, the US National Hurricane
Center said.

As of 0900 GMT, the storm had moved over west central Mexico and its
maximum sustained winds had decreased to 35 mph (55 kph), the Miami-based NHC
said.

Willa first swept over the Marias islands, where Mexico has a federal
prison.

The interior ministry did not respond to questions on whether it had
evacuated the 1,000 inmates housed there or what other emergency measures
were in place for the penal colony.

“We do not have any reports of damages there so far,” the head of Mexico’s
emergency services, Luis Felipe Puente, told a press conference.

More than 4,250 people were evacuated from high-risk areas, including
tourists who were on vacation at the beach, he said.

They are being housed in 58 temporary shelters.

– ‘Up against nature’ –

At a shelter in Escuinapa, a town of 30,000 people that sits in the
middle of the hurricane’s path, residents fretted over their houses as they
waited out the storm.

“Let’s just hope this is over soon so we can go home,” said Epigmenio
Cardenas, 44, a farmer who was among the 2,500 people huddled there.

“You feel bad leaving everything behind, but what can you do? We’re up
against nature,” he told AFP.

Many residents had boarded up their windows with plywood.

“They told us it was going to hit hard, and that we had to come here” to
the shelter, said Maria Virginia Cardenas, 59, a cook.

“God, please just let us go back home unharmed.”

The Mexican army deployed troops to roll out a disaster response operation
in the area.

In Mazatlan, a tranquil resort town with turquoise waters, the hotels that
line the coast were largely empty as workers nailed plywood over the windows
and built sandbag barriers to keep out the flood waters earlier in the day.

As the storm moved over the town, drenching it in a light but steady rain,
some hardy residents even went for walks or bike rides on the oceanfront
avenue, the Malecon.

– State of alert –

At its peak, Willa packed maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometers (120
miles) per hour, the NHC said.

It is expected to dump 15 to 30 centimeters (six to 12 inches) of rain on
parts of Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco states, with some areas getting up to
45 centimeters.

The three states had already declared an alert and cancelled school.

In the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Governor Aristoteles
Sandoval on Monday ordered the evacuation of hotels and coastal areas,
warning the storm could have “very destructive consequences.”

In Michoacan state, also on the Pacific coast, heavy rain caused a freight
train to derail Monday in the town of La Goleta, injuring at least two
workers for the Kansas City Southern rail line, authorities said.

Adding to the weather chaos, the remnants of Tropical Storm Vicente were
moving over Michoacan on Tuesday, bringing more heavy rainfall.

Mexico’s Pacific coast has already been hit by deadly storms and rains this
hurricane season.