The centre of Hurricane Willa slammed into Mexico’s Pacific coastline on Tuesday evening with winds of 120 miles per hour (195 kph), buffeting buildings and dumping rain on tourist resorts where thousands of people had moved to safety.
Willa, a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, veered inland near the town of Teacapan, about 60 miles (100 km) south of the coastal resort of Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, satellite images showed.
WATCH: Mexican waterfall flooded by heavy rain as Hurricane Willa approaches
The storm, one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, was due to weaken fast as it moved inland, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The storm was about 50 miles (80 km) south of Mazatlan, the center said. It was heading north-northeast at 10 miles per hour (16 kph).
The hurricane center warned that people should not venture into the “relative calm” of the hurricane’s eye as winds could suddenly increase.
The storm had reached rare Category 5 status on Monday with winds near 160 mph (260 kph) before it weakened.
Roads near Mazatlan’s historic city center were nearly deserted as rains grew stronger, bending palm trees. The city’s main convention center, designated a shelter, filled with 182 people looking for safety.
“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 the shelter with her five children, aged 8 to 15. “Hopefully this is just a bit of water, nothing more.”
Several other tourist getaways in the state of Nayarit as well as the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state lie in Willa’s path, which is forecast to bring a life-threatening storm surge of ocean water, wind and rainfall.