Last updateFri, 29 Apr 2016 3pm

Hurricane Patricia spares Puerto Vallarta; no fatalities but significant damage in rural areas, communities to homes, highways, crops

Authorities in Jalisco and Coloma had prepared for the worst case scenario as Hurricane Patricia roared its way to the Pacific coast Friday evening.  With winds of up to 200 mph, Patricia had developed into a category five hurricane in less than 24 hours – the strongest ever measured by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Some weather experts  described it as a potentially “catastrophic” event – a warning that prompted authorities in Jalisco and Colima to take unprecedented prevention measures.

Residents as far inland as Guadalajara had been advised to stay indoors and more than 1,500 shelters were set up in coastal towns.  Around 10,000 tourists in Puerto Vallarta were bussed to Guadalajara or sought refuge in the municipal shelters.

Bank account numbers to receive financial donations for victims were opened even before the storm had made landfall.

The intense hurricane barreled into the coast just after 6 p.m. Friday near Chamela, midway between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta in a relatively unpopulated area. 

The strong winds uprooted trees, lamp and electricity posts and advertising hoardings, and decimated some lightweight homes but fortunately caused no deaths, authorities said Sunday.   A few residents reported minor injuries and many homes were flooded out, but the major victim of the hurricane was local crops.

To assist those affected by the hurricane, Jalisco authorities quickly initiated an operation in 14 municipalities that may qualify for federal “state of emergency” funding, including Cihuatlan, La Huerta, Puerto Vallarta, Autlan, Casimiro Castillo, Cuautitlan de García Barragan, Mascota, Ameca and Villa Purificacian.   Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval said on Sunday that his evaluation teams had so far noted damage to around 1,200 properties and 3,000 hectares of crops, although these figures are likely to increase.

Damage was reported to coastal highway 200, but authorities said the road was passable and repairs are underway.   At least 40 school facilties are said to have suffered some kind of damage.

Meanwhile in Puerto Vallarta, the streets emptied as Patricia hit land 70 miles to the south. Sandoval had flown to the port earlier in the day to urge residents to take shelter and supervise the preparedness effort.  In the end, the storm spared Vallarta, which experienced only light winds and heavy rain.  By Saturday midday, most hotels were operating normally and many business owners had already removed the wooden boards they had erected to protect their storefronts.

The fear that Patricia would maintain its strength as it moved across Jalisco forced authorities in Guadalajara and surrounding zones – including the Lake Chapala area – to issue a series of alerts urging people to stay at home.  Dozens of events in the metropolitan area on Friday evening and Saturday were cancelled, including the passionate soccer “derby” between local rivals Atlas and Chivas and activities at the annual state fair, the Fiestas de Octubre. Many workers went home early Friday and were given the day off on Saturday.

Patricia begun to dissipate quickly as it progressed over higher ground, as some experts had predicted. By the time it passed by Guadalajara it had weakened into a mild tropical storm.  Despite the incessant rain, no blackouts, flooded streets or fallen trees were reported.  As one resident noted, “It was pretty much a normal rainy season evening.”

Governor Sandoval said the affected communities would “soon be back up on their feet” and praised the collective effort that ensured citizens’ safety: “The most important thing was to save lives and we achieved that.”

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