MAZATLAN, Mexico (Reuters) – Willa’s fierce winds eased as the storm barreled inland over Mexico early on Wednesday, unleashing heavy rains after leaving power outages and toppled trees on the coast but causing no deaths, officials and forecasters said.
Willa, a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, hit late on Tuesday near the town of Isla del Bosque in the northwestern state of Sinaloa with winds of 120 mph (195 kph), thrashing buildings with rain in the coastal towns and resorts where thousands of people moved to safety.
“The population took cover in time,” said Luis Felipe Puente, head of the country’s Civil Protection agency, adding that roads would be open on Wednesday.
The storm was one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Mexico from the Pacific in recent years.
“It was really strong,” said Cecilia Crespo, a police spokeswoman in Escuinapa, a seaside town near to where the storm plowed inland. “It knocked down trees, lamps, poles, walls,” she added by telephone. “There’s no electricity.”
Willa drove into Mexico about 50 miles (80 km) south of Mazatlan, a major city and tourist resort in Sinaloa. Willa had reached rare Category 5 status on Monday with winds nearing 160 mph (260 kph) before it began to lose power.
The storm weakened into a depression as it moved inland over west-central Mexico early on Wednesday but was still expected to dump heavy rains across the region before dissipating by early afternoon.
It was about 75 miles (120 km) east-northeast of Durango with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, the NHC center said.
Speaking by telephone, Jose Garcia, another resident of the hardest-hit area, said he had hunkered down with others in an Escuinapa hotel waiting for the storm to pass, listening to it rattle buildings as it drove onwards.
“People were very alarmed,” the 60-year-old said.
The storm did not strike hard in Mazatlan’s historic city center, which was nearly deserted ahead of its arrival.
“My house is made of sheet metal, wood and cardboard, and I’m scared it will fall on top of me,” said Rosa Maria Carrillo, 36, at a city shelter with her five children.
Additional reporting by Dave Graham and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Robert Birsel and Helen Popper