MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The potentially catastrophic Hurricane Willa, a rare category 5 storm, barreled toward tourist spots on Mexico’s Pacific coast on Monday, prompting authorities to warn residents in its path to exercise extreme caution.
Willa had maximum sustained winds of near 160 miles per hour (260 kph) with higher gusts and was expected to hit the western coast of Mexico on Tuesday afternoon or evening, the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm was about 120 miles (193 km) southwest of the Pacific town of Cabo Corrientes and “is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Mexico,” the NHC said.
Willa, a Category 5 storm, the top level of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane and wind scale, could strengthen throughout Monday but is expected to weaken slightly on Tuesday.
The hurricane center described Willa as “potentially catastrophic” and said it was moving northward. It was expected to produce a life-threatening dangerous storm surge, which will push of ocean water into portions of the coast, and wind and rain.
The hurricane center said Willa is expected to strike just south of Mazatlan, a popular beach resort, and several other tourist destinations also are in the storm’s path.
It will “produce waves of 6 meters (20 feet) and lead to the possible formation of waterspouts in front of the coast of Puerto Vallarta,” Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (SMN) said, referring to another beach resort in the state of Jalisco.
The SMN urged residents to “exercise extreme caution” as recent rains have softened the soil in some areas, and Willa’s downpours could cause landslides, flooding and damage to roadways.
Complete power outages, damage to roofs and even the foundations of buildings that are up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the coastline were possible, the SMN said.
The NHC said that the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter Aircraft that was en route to Willa experienced a safety issue before entering the storm and had to return to base.
Willa is expected to douse coastal states Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa with 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain, likely triggering flash floods and landslides, the NHC said. Some areas may see as much as 18 inches (45 cm) of rainfall.
Nearly three years ago to the day, Hurricane Patricia, one of the most powerful storms on record, struck Mexico’s Pacific coast with winds that tore down trees, moved cars and forced thousands of people to flee homes.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Vicente, with maximum sustained winds of 45 miles per hour (72 kph), was churning some 365 miles (590 km) southeast of Manzanillo. The storm is expected to approach the southwestern coast of Mexico on Tuesday.
While Vicente is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Monday night or Tuesday, it could produce major rainfall and the risk of flash floods and landslides, the NHC said.
Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Julia Love; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott