First Pacific season hurricane targets Mexico’s tourist area


MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Hurricane Agatha, the first of the eastern Pacific season, headed for a stretch of tourist beaches and fishing towns on Mexico’s southern coast on Monday amid warnings of a dangerous storm surge and flooding triggered by torrential rain.

After forming on Sunday, Agatha quickly gained strength and is expected to make landfall as a strong Category 2 hurricane on Monday afternoon or evening, the US National Hurricane Center said.

It was moving towards the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca – an area that includes the quiet tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.

The Hurricane Center said Agatha could “bring a very dangerous storm and life-threatening winds”.

The hurricane center said Agatha had maximum sustained winds early Monday of 110 mph (175 kph) — less than 1 mph of the Category 3 threshold. The center of the storm was 65 miles (110 kilometers) southwest Puerto Angel and heading to the northeast at 6 mph (9 kph).

A slight change in strength was expected before the storm made landfall, according to the Hurricane Center. A hurricane warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and Lagunas de Chacahua.

On Sunday, the Civil Defense Office of Oaxaca published pictures of fishermen pulling their boats on the beaches to protect them from the storm as the primary bands moved over land.

Municipal authorities in Huatulco have ordered a “total closure” of all the resort’s beaches and its famous seven coves, many of which can only be reached by boat. It also closed local schools and began setting up emergency storm shelters.

To the west in Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe, staff at the tiny Casa Kalmar Hotel assembled outdoor furniture and put up wooden storm shutters to keep strong winds from blowing glass windows and doors.

“The biggest concern here is the wind,” said hotel manager Silvia Ranvagni.

With only one guest—and so many cancellations due to the cyclone—Ranvani plans to ride Agatha at the property, which is three or four blocks from the beach.

“I’m going to lock myself up 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 — has announced that it is closed to visitors until further notice due to the hurricane.

The US National Hurricane Center said the storm is expected to drop 10 to 16 inches (250 to 400 mm) of rain over parts of Oaxaca, with a maximum of 20 inches (500 mm), posing a threat of flooding and mudslides.