Hurricane flattens homes, but not a major disaster – Region incredibly suffered relatively little damage

Residents of the Chamela community clear the debris left by Hurricane Patricia. — AFP
Residents of the Chamela community clear the debris left by Hurricane Patricia. — AFP

CHAMELA: Patricia flattened a fishing hamlet on Mexico’s Pacific coast, but authorities were relieved to see Saturday that the record-breaking hurricane largely spared the country and dissipated as it moved north. The wood and brick homes with tin and palm leaf roofs of 40 families in the village of Chamela were blown away when Patricia made landfall as a Category Five monster in Jalisco state late Friday.

The families survived because they evacuated to a shelter before landfall, which occurred just 20 kilometers to the south. The villagers returned to pick up the pieces on Saturday and complained that the government has not provided any help. “We have nothing. My property’s gone,” said Griselda Hernandez, looking at the space without walls or roof that used to be her home.

While the residents of Chamela lost nearly everything, most of the region incredibly suffered relatively little damage and the authorities rejoiced that no deaths were reported. President Enrique Pena Nieto lifted the hurricane alert for Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit states as he visited the region, saying that the damage was “smaller than expected. “Maybe (the warnings) were exaggerated, but it’s better to be warned,” said Ruben Fregoso, a restaurant owner who reopened his business in the popular resort of Puerto Vallarta after the storm.

Seafront hotels were cleared of their guests in Puerto Vallarta before Patricia’s arrival, while thousands of tourists were evacuated by bus or plane, many taken to shelters. But the town had little damage in the end. Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said Mexico was saved because the population was well prepared and the hurricane was slowed by the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. “We were lucky that the impact was diverted” toward the mountains, he said. “Nature was kind-hearted.”

President lifts emergency

Pena Nieto said around 3,500 homes were “partially or completely affected” while electricity was restored to half of the 235,000 people who lost power. He did not specify how the homes were affected. Patricia tore down trees, triggered some flooding and caused minor landslides elsewhere in Jalisco and neighboring Colima state. But by Saturday regional airports reopened and highways were cleared of obstacles.

“The magnitude and danger of this hurricane threatened to cause more considerable damage, but fortunately this did not happen,” he said. But in Chamela and other small villages of the Jalisco coast, tiny homes were damaged by wind and floods. In La Manzanilla, the storm tossed hundreds of coconuts inside the seafront church as wind and water broke the door.

Rain threat

Forecasters had warned of a “potential catastrophe” after Patricia’s winds peaked at 325 kilometers per hour Friday. That was more powerful than the 315 kilometers per hour winds of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 dead or missing when it struck the Philippines in November 2013. But Patricia struck with 270 kilometers per hour winds, slowing as it collided with mountains.

Almost 24 hours after Patricia made landfall, the US National Hurricane Center said it degenerated into a remnant low with 45 kilometers per hour winds. But it warned that the “heavy rain threat” will increase Saturday evening across the northeast and into coastal parts of the US state of Texas.

In Manzanillo, soldiers shoveled sand off the main boulevard while residents, some riding around in bicycles, surveyed damage that included uprooted trees and street signs. “For being the most powerful hurricane in the world, I think we came out okay,” said Cristian Arias, the 30-year-old owner of the seafood restaurant El Bigotes, whose balcony was broken and garage damaged. – AFP

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