MEXICO CITY (AP) — Bands of rain and gusty winds lashed Mexico’s southern Pacific coast Monday as 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 center said Agatha could “bring an extremely dangerous storm surge and life-threatening winds.”
Agatha had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph) — just 1 mph under the threshold for a Category 3, the hurricane center said. The storm’s center was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Puerto Angel and heading to the northeast at 8 mph (13 kph).
The U.S. 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 maximums of 20 inches (500 millimeters), posing the threat of flash floods and mudslides.
Little change in strength was expected before the storm makes landfall, according to the hurricane center. A hurricane warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and the Lagunas de Chacahua.
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 out outdoor furniture and installing storm shutters.
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.