Hurricane Patricia batters Mexico as one of strongest storms ever


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Hurricane Patricia, one of the most powerful storms on record, struck Mexico's Pacific coast on Friday with destructive winds that tore down trees, moved cars and forced thousands of people to flee homes and beachfront resorts.
The storm slammed into a stretch of sparsely populated coastline near the popular beach getaway of Puerto Vallarta, where 15,000 tourists were evacuated to avoid the driving rain and winds of 160 miles per hour (266 km per hour).
Visitors and residents weathered the Category 5 hurricane in emergency shelters hoping it would not do as much damage as the last storm of this magnitude, Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in the Philippines in 2013. There were no initial reports of casualties after the storm hit northwest of Manzanillo.
"The winds are really strong. It's amazing, even the cars are moving," said Laura Barajas, a 30-year-old hotel worker from the major cargo port of Manzanillo.
State officials in Puerto Vallarta later allowed around 200 tourists to return to two hotels - albeit having recommended they stay at the shelter.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast Patricia would move deep inland and could dissipate on Saturday as its winds will be sapped by the mountains of western Mexico.
In Puerto Vallarta, the heart of a string of resorts that range from low-end mega hotels to exclusive villas attracting tech billionaires and pop stars, loudspeakers had blared orders to evacuate hotels ahead of Patricia's arrival.
The streets emptied as police sirens wailed in anticipation of Patricia, which gathered strength suddenly on Thursday night.
U.S. weather experts said Patricia was the strongest storm yet registered in the Western Hemisphere, and said the unprecedented hurricane could have a catastrophic impact.
"Whichever way you turn, there's debris," said Juan Michel, 36, a hotel manager in the resort of Barra de Navidad to the northwest of Manzanillo, who was taking cover from Patricia with 13 others. "We've never seen anything like this."
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said it was hard to predict what damage would be done by the massive storm, which could be seen barreling into Mexico from outer space.
"But one thing we're certain of is that we're facing a hurricane of a scale we've never ever seen," he said.
Writing from 249 miles (401 km) above Earth on the International Space Station, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted an imposing image of the giant storm along with the message: "Stay safe below, Mexico."
Patricia began the day blowing winds of up to 200 mph (322 kph) but was weakening noticeably as it hit the coast.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States was standing by to help Mexico.
Officials said 15,000 domestic and foreign tourists were evacuated from Puerto Vallarta.
The government warned that ash and other material from the volcano of Colima, about 130 miles (210 km) from Puerto Vallarta, could combine with massive rainfall to trigger "liquid cement"-style mudflows that could envelop nearby villages.
Nearby residents were later evacuated, local media said.
The storm hit the coast near Punta Perula, where fear among residents was palpable before impact. Shortly afterwards, local hotel worker Armando Cervantes said the winds were high.
"I'm calm, but I still haven't been able to talk to my family," the 17-year-old Cervantes said by phone.
Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 storm, is seen approaching the coast of Mexico in a NASA picture taken from the International Space Station October 23, 2015.
Meanwhile in Puerto Vallarta, 67-year-old Martha Medgers from Sarasota, Florida, was one of the tourists who chose to return to her hotel after the hurricane struck.
"Praise the lord, we're going back! The storm just isn't that bad here, and all I want right now is a nice comfy bed," she said.
As Patricia was bearing down on the coast, traffic stretched way out of Puerto Vallarta en route to Guadalajara, Mexico's second-biggest city and around five hours drive inland.
The storm's potential to wreak havoc is immense.
"The winds are enough to get a plane in the air and keep it flying," WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis told a U.N. briefing in Geneva early on Friday, likening Patricia to Typhoon Haiyan.
That storm killed over 6,300 people and wiped out or damaged nearly everything in its path on Nov. 8, 2013, destroying around 90 percent of the city of Tacloban.
The strongest storm ever recorded was Cyclone Tip which hit Japan in 1979.

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