MEXICO CITY – Hurricane Agatha, the strongest on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific, swept through a section of tourist beaches and fishing towns in southern Mexico on Monday.
Torrential rains and strong winds killed palm trees and pushed tourists and residents into shelters.
Oaxaca state’s civil protection agency showed families a shelter in Pochutla and a rock and mud slide that blocked the highway between that city and the state capital.
Agatha made landfall as a strong Category 2 hurricane about 5 miles west of Puerto ngel, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. It was moving to the northeast at 8 mph.
Near Puerto ngel, gusts of wind, heavy rain and big waves began to hit the beach town of Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe.
“There’s a lot of rain and strong gusts of wind,” said Silvia Ranfgani, manager of Zipolite’s Casa Calmar hotel. “The sea is really buoyant, and it’s raining a lot,” said Ranfagni, who has decided to ride Agatha over the property. “You can hear the wind howling.”
National emergency officials said they had assembled a task force of more than 9,300 people for the area and more than 200 shelters were opened as forecasters warned of flooding from dangerous storms and heavy rain.
After forming on Sunday, Agatha rapidly gained power, and made landfall on Monday afternoon as a strong Category 2 hurricane, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Yale Climate Connections meteorologist and Weather Underground founder Jeff Masters said Agatha is the strongest storm on record to make landfall in the eastern Pacific in May.
He said that storms in the region are usually triggered by tropical waves coming off the coast of Africa.
“Since the African monsoon typically does not begin producing tropical waves until early or mid-May, there is not enough initial disturbance in May to cause many East Pacific storms,” Masters wrote in an email. “In addition, May water temperatures are cooler than they are at the peak of the season, and wind gusts are generally higher.”
Masters wasn’t sure if Agatha was kicked off by a tropical wave — an area of low pressure that moves in the tropics — but the storm has benefited from warmer waters and less wind shear.
Late on Monday morning, Agatha intensified slightly as it moved toward the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto ngel in the southern state of Oaxaca. The area includes the relaxing tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.
The Hurricane Center said Agatha could “bring an extremely dangerous storm and deadly winds.”
The US National Hurricane Center said the storm is expected to bring 10 to 16 inches of rain to parts of Oaxaca, with a maximum rainfall of 20 inches, posing a risk of flash floods and landslides.
According to the Hurricane Center, a slight change in strength was expected prior to the storm’s arrival. A Hurricane Warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and Lagunas de Chacahua.
In Huatulco, municipal authorities canceled schools and ordered a “complete closure” of all beaches and its seven bays, many of which are accessible only by boat.
The government’s Mexican Turtle Center – a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte – announced that it has been closed to visitors until further notice due to the storm.