Thousands are fleeing Mexico as a potentially catastrophic hurricane prepares to make landfall.
The Mexican agency that includes the country’s national weather service, CONAGUA, described Hurricane Patricia as “the most dangerous storm in history,” predicting that the storm will make landfall somewhere on the coast of Jalisco state, a region that includes the popular tourist spot Puerto Vallerta, Friday evening. Winds as strong as 62 mph will be felt early this afternoon.
The U.S. hasn’t experienced a storm of Patricia’s magnitude since Hurricane Camille in 1969. While that storm actually destroyed all instruments used to measure its magnitude, its winds were measured at around 160 mph before it made landfall, and gusts at landfall were estimated to reach 200 mph.
Hurricane Andrew in 1992, was the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history at the time, causing 66 fatalities and $26 billion in damages. Thought at the time to be a category 4 storm; data from Andrew was revisited in 2012 and proved that the storm’s 165-mph winds made it a Category 5 storm.
The most accurate point of comparison for Patricia, though, is Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013. Over 6,000 people died from the storm, which recorded sustained winds of 195 mph.
The Mexican government has mounted an all-out effort to warn residents to head to some of the nearly 1,800 shelters set up by the government. According to the civil protection agency, 50,000 individuals have been mobilized in Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit, and around 4,000 Mexican navy officers have been mobilized as well.
Flights in and out of airports in Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo have been suspended, and gas and electricity have been shut off as a precaution in certain areas, as well. Some hotels in the area have evacuated, while others are simply shoring up as best they can with sandbags and plywood.
While Hurricane Patricia has officially been reduced to a category four storm, due to its weakening as it approaches land, CNN reports its still an “extremely dangerous” storm, with winds remaining around 130 miles per hour.
As the hurricane nears, President Obama has tweeted, saying that Mexico is in this country’s prayers as they brace for the record breaking storm.
“Our thoughts are with the Mexican people as they brace for Hurricane Patricia,” the president tweeted. “USAID disaster experts are on the ground and ready to help.”