Dangerous Hurricane Willa menacing Mexico’s Pacific coast
MAZATLAN, Mexico —roared into a cluster of Mexican islands holding a prison colony and headed for a Tuesday afternoon collision with a stretch of the country’s Pacific coast, its 120 mph winds and high waves threatening high-rise resorts, surfing beaches and fishing villages. Farther south, meanwhile, Mexican officials reported 12 deaths related to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Vicente.
Willa briefly reached Category 5 strength on Monday, then weakened to a Category 3 Tuesday morning. But the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that it was still likely to bring life-threatening storm surge, wind and rain to parts of western Mexico.
CBS News Radio reporter Adrienne Bard reported on CBSN that Willa was expected to be one of the most dangerous storms to hit Mexico in recent years. “There was, which came in a Category 5 a couple years back in Puerto Vallarta and somehow miraculously didn’t do any damage, so I think everyone’s hoping for that,” Bard said.
On Tuesday morning, the storm battered the Islas Marias, a group of islands about 60 miles offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison. It was expected to blow ashore in the evening south of Mazatlan, a tourist resort of about 500,000 people with many U.S. and Canadian expatriates.
As of 2 p.m. ET, Willa was centered about 25 miles northwest of the Islas Marias and 105 miles south of Mazatlan. It was moving north-northeast at 6 mph, but was forecast to make a turn to the northeast.
National Hurricane Center
Hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles from the storm’s core, and tropical storm-force winds were up to 125 miles out. The U.S. hurricane center warned that Willa could bring 6 to 12 inches of rain — with up to 18 inches in some places — to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.
In Mazatlan, the beach had almost disappeared on Tuesday morning as waves slammed against the coastal boulevard, while black clouds loomed overhead. A few surfers took advantage of the high waves even as workers boarded up windows on hotels, shops and homes.
Schools were closed and the streets nearly empty. A decree of “extraordinary emergency” was issued for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states, the federal Interior Department announced.
Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state, in a vulnerable region of small towns sitting among farmland tucked between the sea and lagoons. After hitting the Islas Marias, forecasters said Willa would then blow ashore in the late afternoon somewhere along a 140-mile stretch from Mazatlan to San Blas.
While Willa was likely to weaken somewhat, forecasters said it still was expected to be a powerful Category 3 storm when it hits land. Enrique Moreno, mayor of Escuinapa, a municipality of about 60,000 people lying on Willa’s potential track, 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, Mayor Jose Joel Boucieguez said officials prepared shelters and were closely monitoring low-lying areas. Farther to the south, Tropical Storm Vicente had weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday, but it was still bringing heavy rainfall that caused dangerous flooding in southern and southwestern Mexico.
Officials in Oaxaca state said seven adults and five children had lost their lives in drownings or mudslides. After leaving Mexico, CBS News contributing meteorologist Jeff Berardelli reports that Willa, which absorbed moisture from Vicente’s remnants, was expected to drop between 1 and 3 inches of rain in already saturated parts of Texas.
By Friday, Willa was expected to become aand threaten parts of the Eastern Seaboard. “It’s going to retain its identity and then kinda merge with Gulf of Mexico moisture, a big front that’s going to be swinging down from the Great Lakes,” Berardelli said on CBSN, “and we’re going to be talking about a major nor’easter for us here in New York City but really up and down the whole Eastern Seaboard.”