Mexican resort on Pacific coast brace for Hurricane Willa

MAZATLAN, Mexico, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Thousands of people were evacuated, buildings were boarded up and schools closed on Mexico's Pacific coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Willathreatened to pummel tourist resorts with high winds and heavy rains.

Residents had sealed windows and doors with wooden planks on hotels facing the historic downtown boardwalk of Mazatlan, a popular coastal city in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Willa, which weakened to a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Tuesday morning, was blowing maximum sustained winds of about 120 miles per hour with higher gusts, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

It had reached rare Category 5 status on Monday with winds near 160 mph before weakening.

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Preparing for Hurricane Willa
Men transport a boat on a truck in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
This image provided by NOAA on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, shows Hurricane Willa in the eastern Pacific, on a path to smash into Mexico's western coast. (NOAA via AP)
Men move a kayak at the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa upgraded to maximum Category 5 storm, US forecasters informed. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
People prepare to be evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the city sign in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man works trying to protect a restaurant from Hurricane Willa, before its arival in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 22, 2018. - Hurricane Willa upgraded to maximum Category 5 storm, US forecasters informed. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
People gather preparing to be evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Civil Protection employee gathers people who will be later evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
People gather preparing to be evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Men tie a kayak at the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa upgraded to maximum Category 5 storm, US forecasters informed. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
People are transported to be later evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
This GOES East satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Willa in the eastern Pacific, on a path toward Mexico's Pacific coast on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. (NOAA via AP)
People prepare to be evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
People prepare to be evacuated in Teacapan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Civil Protection vehicle patrols the streets of Teacapan in Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa was upgraded to a 'potentially catastrophic' Category 5 storm Monday off Mexico's Pacific coast, where it was expected to produce life-threatening wind and flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man prepares to surf in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa upgraded to maximum Category 5 storm, US forecasters informed. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists enjoy the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 21, 2018, where Hurricane Willa is expected to land next October 23. - Hurricane Willa strengthened to category 4 in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, becoming 'extremely dangerous' as it slowly approaches the mainland, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
View of waves in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa. - Hurricane Willa upgraded to maximum Category 5 storm, US forecasters informed. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
View at the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 21, 2018, where Hurricane Willa is expected to land next October 23. - Hurricane Willa strengthened to category 4 in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, becoming 'extremely dangerous' as it slowly approaches the mainland, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists enjoy the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 21, 2018, where Hurricane Willa is expected to land next October 23. - Hurricane Willa strengthened to category 4 in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, becoming 'extremely dangerous' as it slowly approaches the mainland, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists enjoy the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 21, 2018, where Hurricane Willa is expected to land next October 23. - Hurricane Willa strengthened to category 4 in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, becoming 'extremely dangerous' as it slowly approaches the mainland, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists enjoy the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 21, 2018, where Hurricane Willa is expected to land next October 23. - Hurricane Willa strengthened to category 4 in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, becoming 'extremely dangerous' as it slowly approaches the mainland, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists enjoy the beach in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on October 21, 2018, where Hurricane Willa is expected to land next October 23. - Hurricane Willa strengthened to category 4 in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, becoming 'extremely dangerous' as it slowly approaches the mainland, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Forecast to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, Willa was due to weaken further before striking the land Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday afternoon the storm was about 105 miles south-southwest of Mazatlan, the hurricane center said.

A light, steady rain fell on Mazatlan's main tourist strip on Tuesday afternoon. Only a few tourists were out as small red flags planted in the sand indicated the beach was closed.

On sidestreets people were boarding up windows while some young men surfed the higher-than-usual waves.

"I'm sure my house is going to flood," university professor Ignacio Osuna said on the boardwalk on Tuesday morning as he watched the surfers. He noted large parts of the city are below sea level.

"This is going to get ugly," he said.

The city's main convention center was designated as a shelter but only a few people had taken refuge as of Tuesday afternoon. A fleet of trucks owned by state electricity company CFE stood in the parking lot, ready to repair any fallen powerlines.

Several other tourist getaways in the state of Nayarit, as well as the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state, also lie near the path of the storm, which is forecast to bring a life-threatening storm surge of ocean water, wind and rainfall, the hurricane center said.

Howard Petty, a sport fishing enthusiast from Chevy Chase, Maryland, in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, said he had no idea the storm was coming.

"There's nowhere else for us to go so we're just going to stay put here," he said in the lobby of a hotel in Mazatlan.

Mexico's civil protection agency said on Twitter that families should move into nearby temporary refuges if necessary.

Up to 18 inches of rainfall could pummel parts of the storm zone, the hurricane center said. Even buildings up to 500 meters from the coastline could lose power and suffer physical damage, Mexico's National Meteorological Service said.

In some states, Willa's menace is compounded by the remnants of Vicente, a post-tropical cyclone moving over the state of Michoacan on Tuesday morning, causing rain in parts of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero.

Nayarit Governor Antonio Echevarria said more than 10,000 people were being evacuated and schools would be closed. He warned locals not to defy the storm.

"Let's not play the macho," he said. "Let's not act like superheroes. It's a very strong hurricane, very potent, and we don't want any tragedies."

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia, Dave Graham and Brendan O'Brien; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Bill Trott)

 

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