Canadians in southwest Mexico found themselves in a region facing a Category 5 hurricane that made landfall late Friday.
Initial reports said Hurricane Patricia came ashore in a relatively low-populated stretch of the Jalisco state coast near Cuixmala. The nearest significant city, Manzanillo, was about 85 kilometres southeast and outside the extent of Patricia’s hurricane-force winds.
Patricia’s projected path headed over a mountainous region dotted with isolated hamlets that are at risk for dangerous mudslides and flash floods. The storm was expected to rapidly weaken over the mountains and dissipate Saturday, but was still capable of soaking the region with heavy rain.
In the popular tourist destination of Puerto Vallarta, Larry Kehler, a native of Steinbach, Man., said the hurricane made landfall about 160 kilometres south, so there was no wind where he is living, only light rain and high cloud.
He said he closed his Cafe Roma at noon Friday but planned to reopen Saturday morning.
“Everybody’s at home and the odd guy’s gone for a walk and taken a picture down the street,” he said in a telephone interview. “There’s nobody around. Everybody’s still closed.”
Foreign Affairs issued a travel warning. It said 500 Canadians are currently registered as being in the affected state of Jalisco, but estimated the true number was closer to 2,000.
“Canadians in the affected areas should seek shelter, and consider leaving if it is safe to do so,” Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “Some airports are closed and flights to and from the affected areas have been suspended. If Canadians are leaving by land, they should do so without delay, as road closures may occur at short notice.”
Travellers who booked their trips through major travel company Transat account for more than 450 of them, according to spokeswoman Debbie Cabana.
Those clients, however, will not be leaving the country any time soon. Cabana said travellers are being moved to safe locations in accordance with the individual emergency plans established by all hotels in the area.
“It’s not unusual for this region to have hurricanes,” she said. “They’re not all as strong as the one that we’re experiencing, but (hotels) are fully prepared for this kind of event.”
Cabana said clients may be relocated from ocean-front rooms to less exposed quarters, adding some hotels may opt to move guests off the premises altogether.
WestJet, which had 295 WestJet Vacations customers in and around Puerto Vallarta, was also asking clients to stay where they were.
“It’s very important that guests follow the emergency response instructions of the hotel in which they are staying,” said spokesman Robert Palmer. “It’s very important that they do not try to venture out on their own to get away or avoid the storm.”
The company’s local representatives have been going from hotel to hotel to ensure customers are safe and have the information they need, said Palmer, adding that any guest who made their own plans to escape the storm could be putting themselves in danger.
“Once the guest does that we’ve lost track of them, we don’t know where they are and don’t know if they’re in a safe place,” he said, noting that some hotels were sending guests to evacuation centres further inland on the advice of local authorities.
With the local airport closed, WestJet cancelled one flight on Friday and five scheduled flights set for Saturday but said it was prepared to put on extra flights to get customers out of Mexico after the storm had passed.
Foreign Affairs cautioned those in the area that Patricia could bring about food and water shortages in addition to damage caused by flash flooding. Canadians were strongly discouraged from visiting the Mexican coast between San Blas and Lazaro Cardenas.
Prime Minister designate Justin Trudeau issued a statement Friday night that Canada stands ready to support the Mexican people and added the thoughts of Canadians are with them.
In Puerto Vallarta, residents reinforced homes with sandbags and shop windows with boards and tape, and hotels rolled up beachfront restaurants. The airport was all but deserted, but lines formed at a bus station with people anxious to buy tickets to Guadalajara and other inland destinations.
One Canadian couple, however, had no plans to move away from the heart of the storm.
David Lloyd of Edmonton just moved into a Puerto Vallarta high rise with his wife and said they intend to try to ride the storm out at home.
“We’ve just pulled everything off the patio that could be blowing around. We’re establishing a safe zone inside the apartment that will be away from any windows,” Lloyd told ABC news before Patricia made landfall. “We’ll hunker down.”
Lloyd said he expects that he could be without power for up to four days if early forecasts prove accurate.
Arthur Fumerton, an Ontario native who is now the director of a before and after school program called the Volcanes Community Education Project, said he was about two kilometres away from the beach and has taken precautions.
“We’ve all taped up windows and so on anticipating,” he said earlier Friday.
He said students were dismissed early on Thursday from schools, which remained closed on Friday.
— with files from the Associated Press.
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