An "extraordinarily dangerous" category 5 hurricane made landfall in southwestern Mexico Friday night, as residents and tourists braced for a lashing of torrential rainfall, punishing winds and "life-threatening" flash flooding.
Hurricane Patricia lashed Jalisco state, just west of Manzanillo, with 189 mph winds just after 6 p.m. local time (7 p.m. ET), Mexico's meteorological service said. The World Meteorological Organization warned earlier Friday that the storm was the strongest ever recorded — comparable only to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 1,700 people in the Philippines in 2013.
Patricia's "potentially catastrophic landfall" would affect a 170-mile stretch of coast between the popular tourist destinations of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, the WMO said. More than 7 million people were in the storm's path.
Rainfall amounts of up to a foot in a short span of time between Friday night and Saturday over the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán and Guerrero could trigger "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides," according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
And a strong storm surge, accompanied by massive waves, near the coast would only intensify the flooding. the Mexican national water commission, CONAGUA, said waves could swell to up to 40 feet.
The U.S. Department of State called the storm "extraordinarily dangerous" and urged the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visiting or living in the hurricane warning area to avoid the coast, and heed all evacuation warnings. The State Department said 16 shelters had been set up as of 4 p.m. ET.
Three airports in Patricia's path were shut down, according to The Associated Press, meaning those who wished to flee to safety were forced to board buses amidst heavy evacuation traffic.
Kristie Castellini and her fiancé Josh Rodenbush, from San Francisco were with family and friends Puerto Vallarta before they planned to celebrate their wedding in Guadalajara. They didn't learn of the hurricane until late Thursday.
"I was half-asleep when the hotel GM called," Castellini said. "He said we have to evacuate, that all of Puerto Vallarta was being evacuated."
"I was half-asleep when the hotel GM called. He said we have to evacuate, that all of Puerto Vallarta was being evacuated."'
The St. Regis hotel guests boarded a bus on Friday morning and were still on that bus on Friday evening. "We have been on here for 7 hours. It's been horrific traffic," Castellini said.
Others were staying put and riding out the storm. Atlanta-born Ian Hayden Parker, who founded the Vallarta Daily News in Puerto Vallarta hopes to continue to inform locals about the storm's impact.
"We live in a resort town, but outside of the tourist zone, there is still a lot of poverty and people without computers, Internet or phones," Parker said.
Many followed advice to urgently begin storm preparations on Thursday and "are now just playing the wait-and-see game," Parker said.