Fierce Hurricane Willa closes in on Mexican resort area

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MAZATLAN, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Willa roared over an offshore penal colony and closed in on Mexico’s Pacific coast with 120 mph (195 kph) winds Tuesday, threatening a major resort area along with fishing villages and farms.

Emergency officials said they evacuated more than 4,250 people in coastal towns and set up 58 shelters ahead of the dangerous Category 3 storm, which was expected to blow ashore in the evening near Mazatlan, a tourist spot of high-rise hotels and about 500,000 people, many of them U.S. and Canadian expatriates.

Forecasters said it could bring life-threatening storm surge and torrential rain.

The storm battered the Islas Marias, a group of Mexican islands about 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the mainland that include a nature preserve and a federal prison. Federal authorities gave no immediate details on any damage to the prison or what steps were taken to protect the inmates.

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As Willa closed in, the beach in Mazatlan almost disappeared, with waves slamming against the coastal boulevard, black clouds looming overhead. A few surfers took advantage of the high waves even as workers boarded up windows on hotels, shops and homes. Schools were closed and the streets nearly empty.

The federal government issued a decree of “extraordinary emergency” for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states.

Bob Swanson, who is from Saskatchewan, Canada, and spends two to six months of the year in his house in the Cerritos neighborhood near the shore in Mazatlan, said he filled his washing machine with water, filled his home fuel tank and gassed up his car in case he needs to head into the mountains for safety.

“I come from a country where we have hurricanes and vicious storms, so I’m kind of waiting with bated breath,” he said over the phone while sitting on his porch and smoking a cigarette.

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Hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the storm’s center, and tropical storm-force winds were up to 125 miles (205 kilometers) out.

Forecasters said Willa could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain — with up to 18 inches (45 centimeters) in some places — to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.

Farther to the south, the remnants of Tropical Storm Vicente continued to bring heavy rain that caused deadly flooding and mudslides in southern and southwestern Mexico.

Federal disaster agency chief Luis Felipe Puente said 11 people died as a result of Vicente. Local officials earlier put the figure at 12.


Associated Press writer Isabella Cota in Mexico City contributed to this story.