Mexico's Pacific coast braces for Hurricane Jova

October 11, 2011 - 2:40 AM
Mexico Tropical Weather

A pedestrian walks on a flooded street in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Monday Oct. 10, 2011. Hurricane Jova strengthened to a major, Category 3 hurricane Monday as it marched toward Mexico's Pacific coast. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

BARRA DE NAVIDAD, Mexico (AP) — People left low-lying shore neighborhoods, hotels dragged in beach furniture, officials set up shelters and one of Mexico's biggest cargo ports shut down as powerful Hurricane Jova headed for a Tuesday landfall near this Pacific resort.

Jova was a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 120 mph (193 kph) early Tuesday, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said there could be some fluctuations Tuesday. But the center said Jova was expected to be a major hurricane as its eye neared the coastline in the afternoon or evening, and is expected to produce significant coastal flooding near where it makes landfall.

The forecast track would carry its center near Barra de Navidad, which is south of the larger resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Jalisco state authorities evacuated about 500 families late Monday from their homes on the coast near Colima state, said Alejandro Arias, Puerto Vallarta's civil protection director, after a meeting with state authorities.

Authorities shut down the port of Manzanillo, the biggest cargo center on Mexico's Pacific coast, and the nearby port of Nuevo Vallarta. Officials were evaluating whether to close down the port in Puerto Vallarta, said Laura Gurza, chief of the federal Civil Protection emergency response agency.

The Mexican government declared a hurricane warning for a 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of coast from just south of Puerto Vallarta to a point south of Manzanillo. A tropical storm warning was in effect farther south, to the port of Lazaro Cardenas.

Hotel employees taped up windows, cleaned out water channels to avoid flooding and pulled in all beach furniture.

In the idyllic beach resort of Barra de Navidad, most tourists had left town but those who stayed continued to enjoy themselves late Monday.

Bill Clark, a 59-year-old tourist from Santa Rosa, California, ate tacos at a street stand while enjoying a balmy night.

"Some people are going out of town but I'm not really worried," said Clark, who has been coming to the town since 1994. "I'm from California, I have been through earthquakes."

In the town of 3,000 people, authorities readied two elementary schools to serve as storm shelters, but as of late Monday no one had taken refuge, city councilman Ricardo Rodriguez said.

Gurza said at least 65 shelters had been opened along the coast in the states of Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.

There were perhaps a couple of hundred tourists left in Barra de Navidad and the nearby beach town of Melaque, said Armando Martinez, an employee of the civil defense department of Cihuatlan, the township that includes both towns.

Local fishermen were ordered not to go out to sea. Martinez said flooding is a problem during storms in Melaque.

At 2 a.m. (0600 GMT), Jova was 155 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of Manzanillo, and moving north-northeast at 6 mph (9.6 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) over the states of Michoacan, Colima and Jalisco which could trigger dangerous falsh floods and mud slides over mountainous terrain, the center said.

In 1959, an unnamed hurricane struck near Manzanillo, reportedly killing 1,000 people. Detailed reports on hurricanes were not available at the time.

Colima state, where Manzanillo is located, has contingency plans to open 15 to 20 shelters as needed statewide, but had not yet opened any or ordered any evacuations by Monday night, said Ricardo Ursua, the state civil defense director of operations.

Remnants of Hurricane Jova were projected to pass across the Guadalajara area but to be dissipating by the time the Jalisco state capital inaugurates the Pan American Games on Friday. Puerto Vallarta is scheduled to host two events, open-water swimming and the triathlon, about a week later.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Irwin has weakened to a depression farther out in the Pacific with winds near 35 mph (56 kph). While it was expected to move eastward toward land, it was not immediately clear if it would reach the coast.

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Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.