Bands of rain and gusty winds lashed Mexico’s southern Pacific coast Monday as Agatha, the first hurricane of the eastern Pacific season, advanced slowly toward a stretch of tourist beaches and fishing towns.
Ominous grey skies and blowing sand cleared beaches in the popular destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco.
National emergency officials said they had assembled a task force of more than 9,300 people for the area and more than 200 shelters were opened as forecasters warned of dangerous storm surge and flooding from heavy rains.
After forming on Sunday, Agatha quickly gained power, and it was predicted to make landfall as a strong Category 2 hurricane Monday afternoon or evening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Late Monday morning, Agatha accelerated slightly, as it moved toward the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca. The region includes the laid-back tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.
The hurricane centre said Agatha could “bring an extremely dangerous storm surge and life-threatening winds.”
Agatha had maximum sustained winds of 175 km/h — just under the threshold for a Category 3, the hurricane centre said. The storm’s centre was about 80 kilometres southwest of Puerto Angel and heading to the northeast at 13 km/h.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to drop 250 to 400 millimetres of rain on parts of Oaxaca, with isolated maximums of 500 millimetres, posing the threat of flash floods and mudslides.
Little change in strength was expected before the storm makes landfall, according to the hurricane centre. A hurricane warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and the Lagunas de Chacahua.
The civil defence office in Oaxaca said the hurricane’s outer bands were already hitting the coast Sunday. The office published photos of fishermen hauling their boats up on beaches to protect them from the storm.
Beaches, schools closed
In Huatulco, municipal authorities cancelled schools and ordered “the absolute closure” of all beaches and its seven bays, many of which are reachable only by boat.
To the west in Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe, hotel workers were gathering outdoor furniture and installing storm shutters.
“The biggest worry here is the wind,” hotel manager Silvia Ranfagni said.
With only one guest — and plenty of cancellations due to the hurricane — Ranfagni planned to ride out Agatha at the property, which is three or four blocks from the beach.
“I’m going to shut myself in here with my animals,” she said, referring to her dog and cats.
The government’s Mexican Turtle Center — a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte — announced it was closed to visitors until further notice because of the hurricane.