MEXICO CITY (AP) – Hurricane Agatha, the first of the season, hit a number of tourist beaches and fishing villages on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast on Monday amid warnings of dangerous storm surge and flooding from heavy rainfall.
After forming on Sunday, Agatha quickly gained strength and was forecast to make landfall Monday afternoon or evening as a powerful Category 3 hurricane, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
It moved to the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca – a region that includes the laid-back tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.
The hurricane center said Agatha could bring “an extremely dangerous storm surge and life-threatening winds.”
Late on Sunday, Agatha had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph) — just 1 mph below the threshold for a Category 3, the Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm was about 225 kilometers southwest of Puerto Angel and was moving northeast at 9 km/h.
A hurricane warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and the Lagunas de Chacahua.
The Oaxaca Civil Protection Agency said the hurricane’s outer bands already reached shore on Sunday. The office published photos of fishermen dragging their boats onto the beach to protect them from the storm.
Municipal authorities in Huatulco ordered “the absolute closure” of all the resort’s beaches and its famous “seven bays”, many of which can only be reached by boat. They also closed local schools and started setting up storm shelters.
To the east in Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe, the staff at the small Casa Kalmar hotel gathered outdoor furniture and installed wooden storm shutters to keep high winds from blowing out the glass windows and doors.
“The main concern here is the wind,” said hotel manager Silvia Ranfagni.
With only one guest — and many cancellations due to the hurricane — Ranfagni planned to drive Agatha out at the property, which is three or four blocks from the beach.
“I’m going to lock myself up here with my animals,” she said, referring to her dog and cats.
The Mexican government’s Turtle Center – a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte – has announced that it will be closed to visitors until further notice due to the hurricane.
The US National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to drop 10 to 16 inches (250 to 400 millimeters) of rain on parts of Oaxaca, with isolated maxima of 20 inches (500 millimeters), raising the threat of flash flooding and mudslides with entails.