MEXICO CITY (AP) — The first hurricane of the season formed off the South Pacific coast of Mexico on Sunday and quickly gained strength before expected to hit tourist beaches and fishing towns as a severe storm.
Agatha could make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane Monday afternoon or evening in an area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca — a region that includes the laid-back tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.
Early Sunday evening, the newly formed hurricane had peak winds of 110 mph (175 km/h), just 1 mph below the Category 3 threshold, the US National Hurricane Center said. It was about 160 miles (255 km) southwest of Puerto Angel and was moving northeast at 5 miles per hour (7 km/h).
The center said Agatha could have winds of 120 mph (193 km/h) when she makes landfall.
A hurricane warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and Lagunas de Chacahua.
The Office of Civil Defense in Oaxaca said the hurricane’s outer bands had already hit the coast. The office released photos of fishermen pulling their boats ashore to protect them from the storm.
The municipal authorities of Huatulco have ordered an “absolute closure” of all the resort’s beaches and its famous “seven coves”, many of which can only be reached by boat. They also closed local schools and began building storm shelters.
To the east in Zipolite, long known for its bare-chested beach and bohemian vibe, the staff at the small Casa Kalmar hotel assembled outdoor furniture and installed wooden storm shutters to keep strong winds from blowing glass windows and doors.
“The biggest concern here is the wind,” said hotel manager Silvia Ranfagni.
With only one guest—and many cancellations due to the hurricane—Ranfanyi planned to wait out Agatha at a hotel three or four blocks from the beach.
“I’m going to lock myself in here with my animals,” she said, referring to her dog and cats.
The State Mexican Turtle Center, a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte, announced that it was closed to visitors until further notice due to the storm.
The US National Hurricane Center has warned of dangerous coastal flooding, as well as large and destructive waves near where Agatha makes landfall.
The storm was expected to drop 10 to 16 inches (250 to 400 millimeters) of rain in parts of Oaxaca, with occasional highs of 20 inches (500 millimeters), threatening flash floods and landslides.
As the storm’s current path will take it through the narrow waist of the Isthmus of Mexico, the center of the hurricane said there is a chance the storm’s remnants could reappear over the Gulf of Mexico.
In northern Guatemala, a woman and six of her children died on Saturday when a landslide hit their home, but the accident does not appear to be related to Agatha.