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Damage light as record-breaking Hurricane Patricia loses force over Mexico

Deborah Bonello

Hurricane Patricia was downgraded on Saturday to a tropical depression, but was still a potential danger to cause flooding and mudslides after it slammed through Mexico’s west coast as a record-setting storm.

Mexico had braced for the worst after winds of more than 200 miles per hour were measured, making Patricia the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Patricia made landfall Friday in a lightly populated area along Mexico's Pacific coast but avoided direct hits on the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and major port city of Manzanillo.

Early reports showed minimal damage along the coast, though the rains were continuing and flooding was considered a danger. Airports in Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Tepic and Colima reopened after being closed Friday.

LIVE UPDATES: Hurricane Patricia downgraded to tropical depression

Patricia surprised weather analysts with the pace of its growth, increasing from a tropical storm on Thursday to a Category 5 hurricane by Friday morning, more than doubling in power and speed in less than 24 hours. 

Meteorologists said it was almost a perfect example of rapid intensification as warm Pacific waters and a calm upper atmosphere fueled its growth.

The decline of Patricia from Category 5 hurricane to tropical depression also took less than 24 hours as it moved across Mexico, heading toward Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Mountains. In a word, mountains”  is the reason the storm dissipated, Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told The Times. “These mountains disrupted the storm system and they just tore it apart.”

“It is also no longer over water, which is like fuel for hurricanes,”  he said.

The remnants were carrying winds of about 35 miles per hour as they worked their way east through the mountains. According to the National Hurricane Center, the bulk of the storm was about 95 miles northeast of Zacatecas on Saturday morning.

The danger for central and northeastern Mexico was from rains that could total eight to 12 inches, and up to 20 inches in some places, that could cause flooding and mudslides.

“Heavy rain threat continues,”  the center warned.

“These rains are likely to produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,”  the center said. At risk were parts of the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan, and Guerrero through Saturday.

From Mexico, the storm will move to Texas then  “this heavy rain threat will continue across the western Gulf Coast through this weekend and spread into the central Gulf Coast by early next week,” forecasters said. Texas, already hit in recent days by heavy rains was braced for more.

Many parts of Texas, including its biggest cities, were under flash flood watches through Sunday or Monday.

On Saturday morning, the tourist resorts in Colima and in Jalisco were reported to be calm and free from serious damage, in what Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid described as a stroke of  “extraordinary luck.”

Fallen lampposts, trees and billboards, accompanied by some flooding, appeared to be the extent of the damage in coastal communities. 

No deaths had been reported from the 165 mph winds and torrential rains that battered the coast late Friday afternoon.

Jose Trinidad Lopez, director of Civil Protection in Jalisco, said Saturday morning: “We have no reported deaths. In Puerto Vallarta we have reports that all is calm, hotels are operating normally, the infrastructure wasn’t damaged and both national and international tourists are safe.”

But Trinidad Lopez emphasized that it was still early to know the full impact of Hurricane Patricia.

“Many people remained in their homes in high-risk zones and it’s too soon to know what happened to all of them,”  he said.

After dawn Saturday morning, Civil Protection groups across Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit were on patrol, assessing the damage in their states.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was expected to visit damaged communities, according to the newspaper Reforma.

Bonello is a special correspondent.

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