Hurricane Jova weakens, nears Mexico's coast

October 11, 2011 - 2:20 PM
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) — Hurricane Jova roared toward a collision Tuesday with a vulnerable Mexican coastline dotted with tourist resorts and flood-prone mountain villages, prompting evacuations and shutting down one of the country's top cargo ports.

Jova weakened a little as it neared land, but it still had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported, and its forecast path would lead it to landfall between Barra de Navidad and the larger resort of Puerto Vallarta, to the north, late Tuesday.

As the storm's outer bands of rain began hitting the coast, some vowed to ride out the storm, while others began taking refuge at storm shelters in towns like Jaluco, just inland from the beach community of Barra de Navidad.

"My house has a thatch roof, and it's not safe," said Maria de Jesus Palomera Delgado, 44, a farmworker's wife who came to an improvised shelter at a grade school in Jaluco, along with her 17 children and grandchildren. "The neighbors told us the house was going to collapse" if hit by the hurricane, Palomera Delgado said as the children slept nearby on folding cots packed into a classroom.

In an another classroom, migrant farmworker Rufina Francisco Ventura, 27, fed her 2-month-old son. She said she left the ranch where she plants chilies and tomatoes only to pick up some free blankets, but shelter workers "told me I shouldn't leave here, because it's going to hit hard."

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

Authorities also set up shelters for residents of inland towns, where the mountainous terrain could trigger flash floods and mudslides, which often pose the greatest dangers in such hurricanes

"We have about 100 officials working in these communities, telling people they should evacuate," said Francisco Garnica, the duty officer at the Jalisco state civil defense office. But many were reluctant to leave their homes for fear they would be robbed. "They are worried about their possessions," he noted.

At least 65 shelters had been opened along the coast in the states of Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit, said Laura Gurza, chief of the federal Civil Protection emergency response agency.

The Hurricane Center in Miami warned that storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding along the coast between the major seaport of Manzanillo, east of Barra de Navidad, and Cabo Corrientes, southwest of Puerto Vallarta.

It could unleash as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) in isolated areas as it drives inland.

Hotels in Barra de Navidad and the neighboring beach town of Melaque dragged in beach furniture, but some tourists seemed unfazed.

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

"Some people are going out of town but I'm not really worried," said Clark, who has been coming to the town of about 3,000 people since 1994. "I'm from California, I have been through earthquakes."

Authorities shut down the port at Manzanillo, the biggest cargo center on Mexico's Pacific coast, and the nearby port of Nuevo Vallarta. Officials were evaluating whether to close the port in Puerto Vallarta, Gurza said.

A hurricane warning was in effect 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.

At 1 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT; 1800 GMT), Jova was centered about 110 miles (175 kilometers) southwest of Manzanillo and was moving north-northeast at 5 mph (7 kph), the Hurricane 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.

The hurricane was expected to be dissipating by the time the Pan American Games start Friday in nearby Guadalajara.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Irwin regained some strength farther out in the Pacific with winds near 40 mph (64 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.