PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico >> Hurricane Jova strengthened to a major, Category 3 hurricane Monday as it marched toward Mexico’s Pacific coast, threatening the idyllic beach resort of Barra de Navidad and one of the nation’s biggest cargo ports.
Jova’s maximum sustained winds built to near 125 mph this morning, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said it could reach Category 4 strength, with winds of greater than 131 mph on Tuesday before hitting land.
The forecast track would carry its center near Barra de Navidad, south of the larger resort of Puerto Vallarta, late Tuesday.
Hotels in the hurricane’s path were already taking precautions, though the sun continued to shine from time to time. Almost all the guests at the 199-room Grand Bay Hotel on Isla Navidad, just off the coast, were scheduled to check out Monday, and only one American couple will ride out the storm, said hotel desk clerk Julio Cesar Ortega.
Hotel employees were taping up windows, cleaning out water channels to avoid flooding and were planning to pull in all beach furniture later today as Jova gets closer.
“The wind doesn’t really hit us here, because we are protected by the hills,” Ortega said. “But in any case, we’re taking precautions for the storm’s approach.”
The hotel’s approximately 90 employees are planning to take shelter in an interior ballroom if things get ugly.
The Mexican government declared a hurricane warning for a 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of coast form just south of Puerto Vallarta to a point south of Manzanillo, one of Mexico’s chief cargo ports. A tropical storm warning was in effect further south, to the port of Lazaro Cardenas.
In Puerto Vallarta, rain began to fall Monday, and passing buses raised curtains of water.
Rafael Colmenares stood on a porch at the shore, watching the ocean with a beer in his hand. The 49-year-old waiter’s house was flooded when Category 4 Hurricane Kenna struck the coast further north in 2002, killing four people.
But Colmenares said he hasn’t bought any emergency supplies or water.
“You never know with these waves,” he said, adding “But what can you do about nature?”
But Ignacio Curiel, a 55-year-old fisherman, said he was stocking up with food and water.
“After Kenna, we feel a little frightened. The sea came upon us,” he said. “You know what we did? We closed the doors, climbed to our rooftop and watched the waves.”
Curiel said if Jova gets stronger, he’d leave to seek shelter with relatives on higher ground.
“A higher category, and you know what? We’ll run,” Curiel said.
Authorities closed the port of Manzanillo, the country’s second largest non-oil cargo port, to all navigation as a safety measure, the port captain’s office announced.
Jova was located about 220 miles southwest of Manzanillo and was moving east-northeast at about 6 mph.
The mountainous terrain inland usually weakens hurricanes like Jova fairly quickly once they hit land, but “maybe coastal flooding will be an issue,” said National Hurricane Center forecaster Felix Garcia.
“The rainfall will be absolutely torrential,” Garcia said.
There are perhaps a couple of hundred tourists left in Barra de Navidad and the nearby beach town of Melaque, said Armando Martinez, an employee of the civil defense department of Cihuatlan, the township that includes both towns.
Martinez said local officials are preparing six local schools and meeting halls to serve as possible storm shelters, and local fishermen have been prohibited from setting out to sea. He noted that flooding is a problem during storms in Melaque.
In 1959, an unnamed hurricane struck near Manzanillo, reportedly killing 1,000 people. Detailed reports on hurricanes were not available at the time.
Colima state, where Manzanillo is located, has contingency plans to open 15 to 20 shelters as needed statewide, but has not yet opened any or ordered any evacuations, said Ricardo Ursua, the state civil defense director of operations.
Remnants of Hurricane Jova are projected to pass through the Guadalajara area and to be dissipating by the time the Jalisco state capital inaugurates the Pan American Games on Friday. Puerto Vallarta is scheduled to host two events, open-water swimming and the triathlon, about a week later.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Irwin was weakening slightly farther out in the Pacific with winds near 40 mph, and while it is expected to move eastward toward land, it was not immediately clear if it will eventually reach the coast.
Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report