Hurricane Willa’s powerful winds eased slightly Tuesday as it hurtled toward the west coast of Mexico, still a mighty Category 3 storm but unlikely to have a major impact on the migrant caravan marching through the nation.
The storm, which had briefly reached Category 5 status, was forecast to make landfall late Tuesday afternoon or early evening.
“Willa is expected to be a dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Mexico,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned.
AccuWeather meteorologist Steve Travis said the 7,000-strong migrant caravan making its way north through Mexico to the U.S. border was likely too far east to feel direct effects of Willa. If the migrants take the shortest route, toward Texas, they could see some rain, he said.
“If they take a western track and head for the California border, they will have to deal with what the storm left behind,” Travis told USA TODAY. “They will move through wind damage, and washed-out roads are certainly a likelihood.”
The hurricane will produce an “extremely dangerous” storm surge along portions of the coast of southwestern Mexico in southern Sinaloa and Nayarit, especially just south of where the center of Willa makes landfall, the hurricane center said. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by “large and destructive” waves.
Willa is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches. Local amounts to 18 inches are possible across portions of western Jalisco, western Nayarit, southern Sinaloa and far southern Durango in Mexico.
“This rainfall will cause life-threatening flash flooding and landslides,” the hurricane center said.
Farther inland, Willa is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches across the rest of Durango and portions of Zacatecas, southeast Chihuahua, and Coahuila; local amounts to 6 inches are possible. The rainfall could cause life-threatening flash flooding, forecasters said.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he ordered the National Emergency Committee to take the “necessary preventive measures to safeguard the population” in the path of the storm.
Authorities rushed to evacuate low-lying areas and set up shelters amid a stretch of high-rise resorts, surfing beaches, and fishing villages.
Southwest Airlines issued a travel advisory for travelers headed to and from two major destinations for U.S. tourists – Cabo San Lucas, on the southern tip of Baja California, and Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco. Southwest and American were allowing passengers booked through Friday to change flights without penalty if they want to wait for the storm to pass.
Workers taped up windows in hotels and officials ordered schools closed in a low-lying region where towns sit amid farmland tucked between the sea and lagoons. A decree of “extraordinary emergency” was issued for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states, the federal Interior Department announced.
The center of Willa was roaring toward Las Islas Marias, a group of four small islands off the coast of the small coastal state of Nayarit. The storm, driving maximum sustained winds of 130 mph early Tuesday, was forecast to ease a bit more to Category 3 status before making landfall on the mainland.
Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state, Nayarit’s’ heavily populated southern neighbor.
Enrique Moreno, mayor of Escuinapa, a municipality of about 30,000 in Sinaloa, said officials were trying to evacuate everybody in the seaside village of Teacapan. He estimated 3,000 were affected but he expected some would try to stay.
“The people don’t want to evacuate, but it’s for their security,” he said.
About 60 miles up the coast in Mazatlan, with a metropolitan-area population of about 500,000, Mayor Jose Joel Bouciegzue said officials prepared shelters and were closely monitoring low-lying areas. Mazatlan is a popular vacation spot and home to a large number of American and Canadian expatriates.
Farther to the south, a weakening Tropical Storm Vicente was dissipating after killing at least 12 people in flooding and mudslides.
Source: Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press, AccuWeather
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