POSTED: 6:36 a.m. HST, Oct 21, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 7:51 a.m. HST, Oct 21, 2013
MEXICO CITY » Hurricane Raymond strengthened to a Category 3 storm early today and threatened to hurl heavy new rains onto a sodden region of Mexico's Pacific Coast already devastated by last month's Tropical Storm Manuel.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the newly formed storm had nearly stalled offshore, with winds of about 120 mph. Raymond was centered about 115 miles south of the beach resort of Zihuatanejo, and it was expected to move only a little closer to the coast by Tuesday before veering back out to sea on Wednesday.
In Zihuatanejo, next to the neighboring resort of Ixtapa, authorities went door-to-door in hillside communities, warning residents about the risks of floods and mudslides, but nobody had voluntarily evacuated yet to the three storm shelters set up in the town's schools and athletic facilities, said municipal firefighter Jesus Guatemala.
Amid light, intermittent rains, tourists continued to stroll the town, albeit under cloudy skies.
Mexican authorities rushed to deploy emergency crews and said they were considering evacuations of low-lying areas. About 10,000 people already were living away from their homes a month after Manuel inundated whole neighborhoods and caused landslides that buried much of one village. It left behind drenched hillsides that posed serious landslide risks.
David Korenfeld, head of Mexico's National Water Commission, said Sunday that officials were pinning their hopes on a cold front moving from the north that could help steer Raymond away from the coast.
"The cold front coming down is what makes it (Raymond) turn to the left, but that is a model," Korenfeld said. "If that cold front comes down more slowly, this tropical storm ... can get closer to the coast."
Forecasters said that even if Raymond stays offshore, the storm could dump heavy rain and cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides along the south-central Mexican coast.
"There will be rain for the next 72 hours along the Pacific coast — very heavy rain, torrential rain," Korenfeld said.
A hurricane warning was in effect from Tecpan de Galeana, up the coast from Acapulco, north to the port of Lazaro Cardenas. A tropical storm warning was posted from Acapulco to Tecpan.
Authorities in the southern state of Guerrero, where Manuel caused about 120 deaths from flooding and landslides in September, closed seaports, set up 700 emergency shelters and urged residents in risk areas to take precautions. Officials were expected to decide soon whether to order more evacuations, including from low-lying areas of Acapulco that flooded during Manuel.
The state cancelled classes in most coastal communities west of Acapulco, including Zihuatanejo. Schools are often used as emergency shelters in Mexico.
The potential for damage from such rains is high. About 50 dams in the area are still over capacity, and officials began releasing water to make room for expected rainfall.
Some villages high in the mountains of Guerrero were still without electricity and phone service following Manuel.
In Zihuatanejo, near the Ixtapa resort, authorities sent emergency personnel into low-lying areas to warn people to seek safer ground, said Miguel Quiroz, a local Red Cross dispatcher.
In Barra de Potosi, a beach area just outside Zihuatanejo, a light rain began falling Sunday but tourists were largely undisturbed by the storm's proximity.
"We've got bookings coming in, people are coming in," said London native Les Johnson, an employee at the Our House bed and breakfast. "There's people on the beach, it's quite nice ... there's no problem at the moment."