PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico – Hurricane Patricia roared ashore in southwestern Mexico as a Category 5 storm Friday evening, bringing lashing rains, surging seas and cyclonic winds hours after it peaked as one of the strongest storms ever recorded.
There were early reports of some flooding and landslides as the storm moved over inland mountains after nightfall. Television news reports from the coast showed some toppled trees and lampposts and inundated streets. Milenio TV carried footage of cars and buses being swept by floodwaters in the state of Jalisco.
But authorities said there were no immediate reports of fatalities or the kind of major, widespread damage feared earlier in the day when forecasters warned of a potentially “catastrophic” landfall.
“The first reports confirm that the damage has been less than those expected from a hurricane of this magnitude,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a taped address late Friday. He added, however, that “we cannot yet let our guard down.”
Indeed, Patricia’s projected path was headed next over a mountainous region dotted with hamlets that are at risk for dangerous mudslides and flash floods, and where communications can be sketchy. It wasn’t clear when emergency crews would be able to fully assess the storm’s impact in those isolated areas.
The storm was expected to weaken rapidly and dissipate today, but it was still capable of soaking the region with heavy rain.
Patricia “continues to advance and continues to be extremely dangerous,” national civil protection coordinator Luis Felipe Puente warned via Twitter. “Stay informed and follow recommendations.”
Patricia’s center made landfall as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph, but in a relatively low-populated stretch of the Jalisco state coast near Cuixmala. The nearest significant city, Manzanillo, was about 55 miles southeast and outside the zone of the storm’s hurricane-force winds.
By late Friday, Patricia was rapidly losing steam but was still a major hurricane with winds at 130 mph, the center reported, or just above the threshold for a Category 4.
Its center was about 50 miles southeast of the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, where rain began to fall harder than it had all day, but there was still no sign of strong winds. Streets were deserted except for police patrolling slowly with their emergency lights on.
Brandie Galle, a tourist from Grants Pass, Ore., said she sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. Workers let them out to eat in a hotel restaurant after the city was not feeling any major effects from the storm two hours after landfall. There was no visible damage to the building.
Galle said some guests desperate to leave had earlier paid $400 for taxis to drive them the 120 miles to the inland city of Guadalajara.
Patricia formed suddenly Tuesday as a tropical storm and quickly strengthened to a hurricane. Within 30 hours, it had zoomed to a record-beating Category 5 storm, catching many off guard with its rapid growth.
By Friday, it was the most powerful hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere, with a central pressure of 880 millibars and maximum sustained winds of 200 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.