Category 5 Hurricane Patricia Forces Resort Evacuations, Impacts Air Travel in Mexico
Image courtesy of NOAA
Hurricane Patricia is officially the strongest storm on record in the Western Hemisphere, achieving Category 5 status late Thursday with maximum sustained winds exceeding 200 mph, the Associated Press reported.
With the storm forecasted to make landfall along Mexico's Pacific Coast Friday evening, hurricane warnings have been issued for many of the region's resort cities, including Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo.
In addition to dangerous wind gusts, Puerto Vallarta and other places could experience as much as 20 inches of rainfall. What's more, waves as high as 40 feet are expected to batter the coast, compounding the threat of flooding.
In response to the threat, many homes and businesses have boarded up in hopes or preserving property.
On Thursday, the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara urged Americans in the hurricane warning area to "make preparations immediately to protect life and property." It also warned Americans to avoid beaches for the time being.
A representative for Puerto Vallarta's Grand Fiesta Americana Resort, Rogelio Estreda told NBC News that the resort would be evacuated at 7 a.m. local time Friday. Despite the precaution, Estreda remains optimistic.
"We are expecting something bad, but maybe nothing will happen," he told NBC. "It can change at any time."
Similar precautions are being taken at other area hotels and resorts. Australian traveler Natalie Griffin told NBC that staff at the hotel she's staying at in Puerto Vallarta said guests could be evacuated by bus to Guadalajara.
Playa Hotels and Resorts also announced plans for evacuation.
"...In line with our commitment to our guests' safety and comfort we are in the process right now of transporting via coach any remaining guests to Guadalajara were we have arranged accommodations," spokeswoman Gayle MacIntyre said in an email sent at 11 a.m. ET. "This transfer will be complete within two hours."
The AP reported that guests staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Puerto Vallarta converged on the lobby Friday morning to check out of their rooms. As many as 900 guests were staying at the hotel as of Thursday night.
The Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta issued a statement Friday afternoon that said it was "monitoring Hurricane Patricia as it approaches the greater Puerto Vallarta area."
"The resort is taking precautions, including exercising the established hurricane emergency plan, to ensure the welfare and safety of our guests and employees," the hotel added. "Guests will be relocated to the hotel’s ballroom which is a government-approved hurricane shelter, and will be provided with food, water and other necessary supplies. The hotel has a backup generator, but is also equipped with flashlights and emergency lamps in case of any power outages."
"Preventive evacuation of residents and tourists began yesterday Oct.22. Some 16 shelters in safe areas around Puerto Vallarta are in operation and buses are continuing evacuations to Guadalajara," Puerto Vallarta tourism officials confirmed in a statement Friday afternoon. "The majority of visitors and residents from the Historic Center and the Hotel Zone along Puerto Vallarta’s beaches have been evacuated."
More than a dozen shelters have been established throughout Puerto Vallarta to house evacuees. NoticiasPV.com reported the shelters are equipped with drinking water, electricity and toilets, among other necessities.
ETurboNews.com reported that approximately 15,000 people are expected to be evacuated from Puerto Vallarta.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, U.S. tour operator Pleasant Holidays said it was working with airline and hotel partners to monitor the storm and assist in evacuation efforts in some places.
"...Our Customer Service team has contacted travel agency partners with vacations scheduled to Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit through October 30, 2015 to provide assistance in altering their vacation plans as requested, either to future dates or a new destination in Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii or Tahiti," the operator said. "Pleasant Holidays is waiving its change fees for modifications due to Hurricane Patricia."
MLT Vacations also issued a statement regarding Patricia:
"Dozens of Delta Vacations and Aeromexico Vacations customers were scheduled to be in the path of Hurricane Patricia on Mexico’s west coast this weekend. However, a number have opted to leave early or have taken advantage of travel waivers from Delta and Aeromexico for this storm to postpone their vacations. Customers remaining in the destination have been accounted for and are being sheltered in the care of our hotel and destination partners."
"Customers that have booked vacations to Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Manzanillo or Guadalajara with Delta Vacations this weekend should contact their travel agent or call to reschedule their vacations," MLT added.
Meanwhile, Acapulco tourism officials are anticipating limited impacts. "The hotels have not evacuated any guests and the airport is operating normally," Acapulco spokesman Ober Delgado said in an email sent shortly after noon ET. "Currently, there are no plans to close the airport."
Patricia has also complicated many travelers' attempts to fly in and out of the region, with Puerto Vallarta's airport closing Friday in preparation for the storm's arrival.
Puerto Vallarta Airport is now closed. No more flights in or out. Brace. https://t.co/gGZobFOJZD— Kristian Claus (@KClausWBOY) October 23, 2015
Manzanillo's airport has also been closed.
Mexican low-cost carrier Interjet also announced Friday that it was canceling flights to Puerto Vallarta due to the hurricane threat.
As of Friday morning, the AP reported that only a few people were seen heading to shelters set up throughout Puerto Vallarta.
"We need people to understand the magnitude of the hurricane, it is a devastating hurricane, the biggest one ever registered," warned Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio on Mexican radio Friday via the AP.
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