Willa weakens, dumps heavy rain on Mexico

Hurricane Willa has eased into a tropical storm after hitting Mexico, bringing heavy rainfall.
Hurricane Willa has eased into a tropical storm after hitting Mexico, bringing heavy rainfall.

Willa's fierce winds have eased as the storm barrels inland over Mexico, unleashing heavy rains after causing power outages and toppling trees on the coast, though no deaths have been reported, officials and forecasters say.

Willa smashed ashore in the northwestern state of Sinaloa late on Tuesday with winds of up to 120 miles per hour (195km/h), thrashing buildings with rain in the coastal towns and resorts where thousands of people moved to safety.

"The population took cover in time," said Luis Felipe Puente, head of the country's Civil Protection agency, adding that no deaths had been reported going into Wednesday.

Willa was one of the most powerful storms to hit Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, striking the coast near the town of Isla del Bosque as a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

"It was really strong," said Cecilia Crespo, a police spokeswoman in Escuinapa, a seaside town near where the storm ploughed inland.

"It knocked down trees, lamps, poles, walls," she added by telephone.

"There's no electricity."

Willa drove ashore about 50 miles (80km) south of Mazatlan, a major city and tourist resort in Sinaloa. The storm had reached rare Category 5 status on Monday, with winds nearing 160 mph (26 km/h), as it headed toward the coast.

The storm weakened rapidly and was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved quickly inland over northwest-central Mexico early on Wednesday. It was still expected to dump heavy rains across the region before dissipating by early afternoon.

A few hours before daybreak, the storm was about 75 miles (120km) east-northeast of the city of Durango, blowing maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55km/h), the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said.

Downpours in Mexico prior to Willa's arrival have heightened the risk of flooding, and the NHC said the storm could drench some areas in as much as 18 inches (45cm) of rain.

Civil protection authorities in Durango state said 200 people had been evacuated from the village of La Soledad as a precaution in case of a possible overspill from the Santa Elena dam southeast of the city of Durango.

Classes across the state were suspended on Wednesday, Durango governor Jose Aispuro said on Twitter.

Speaking by telephone, Jose Garcia, a resident of the area hardest hit by Willa, said he had hunkered down with others in a hotel in Escuinapa waiting for the storm to pass, listening to buildings rattle as the storm drove onward.

"People were very alarmed," the 60-year-old said.

The storm did not strike hard in Mazatlan's historic city centre, which was nearly deserted ahead of its arrival.

"My house is made of sheet metal, wood and cardboard, and I'm scared it will fall on top of me," said Rosa Maria Carrillo, 36, at a city shelter with her five children.

Australian Associated Press