PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Patricia barreled toward southwestern Mexico Friday as a monster Category 5 storm, the strongest ever in the Western Hemisphere. Residents and tourists were hunkering down or trying to make last-minute escapes ahead of what forecasters called a “potentially catastrophic landfall” later in the day.
The storm was homing in on a Pacific coastline dotted with sleepy fishing villages and gleaming resorts, including the popular beach city of Puerto Vallarta and the port of Manzanillo. After hitting land, Patricia’s projected path would quickly take it over mountainous terrain that is prone to dangerous flash floods and landslides.
In Puerto Vallarta, residents reinforced homes with sandbags and shop windows with boards and tape, and hotels rolled up beachfront restaurants. The airport was closed to all flights and all but deserted, but lines formed at a bus station by people anxious to buy tickets to Guadalajara and other inland destinations.
Fire trucks and ambulances rolled through the streets, sirens blaring, as emergency workers warned people in both Spanish and English to evacuate. For Jose Manuel Gonzalez Ochoa, that made up his mind. His family lives in their ground-floor chicken restaurant, Pollos Vallarta, and neighbors told them water was 5 feet deep in the street the last time a hurricane came through.
Gonzalez Ochoa said the family was heading to a town 30 minutes from the coast. “We’re better off heading up there already,” he said. “The whole government is telling us to leave. You have to obey.”
Asked what preparations he would make for his business, he said he’d just close it up and see what’s left after the storm passes.
ImageContent(562a7c9ce4b0443bb563ec71,562a76761900002e00b94c27,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562a76761900002e00b94c27.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),HECTOR GUERRERO via Getty Images,People line up to buy food and water before the arrival of Hurricane Patricia in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico