Top winds from Hurricane Otis are weakening with its move across southern Mexico, drenching the region with flooding rains after coming ashore near the resort city of Acapulco as the strongest storm ever to hit the country.
Mexico’s government has sent rescue teams to Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, and set up shelters, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday in a press conference.
Infrastructure is damaged, including broken sections on the motorway to Acapulco.
A military airport has been partially destroyed and there is no possibility of flying into the area.
The government does not have information on casualties since it cannot contact teams on the ground.
“The hurricane hit very hard, very hard in Guerrero in the Big Coast throughout the stretch from Tecpan to Acapulco,” Mr Lopez Obrador said. “Communications have been completely lost.”
Mexico’s national power company, Comision Federal de Electricidad, said it had restored supply to 40 per cent of those affected in Guerrero.
Otis came ashore at 12.25am local time as a Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of 266kph – enough power to tear homes and businesses apart.
Initial estimates say top winds increased faster than any other storm on record in the eastern Pacific, though postseason analysis may change that, Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said in an interview.
“This is the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in Mexico on record, though formal records for the eastern Pacific only extend back to around 1950,” said Ryan Truchelut of commercial forecaster WeatherTiger.
While weakening, the storm is still deadly: the hurricane is hitting the region with life-threatening storm surge and pelting southern Mexico’s Pacific coast with massive waves, according to the US National Hurricane Centre. Otis is packing maximum sustained winds of about 130kph, making it a Category 1 storm early on Wednesday.
“Damaging hurricane-force winds will spread inland over southern Mexico this morning with extremely destructive winds near the core during the next few hours,” the NHC said. The storm’s centre was about 100km north-west of Acapulco.
While Otis is expected to dissipate later Wednesday, it could bring as much as 51cm of rain in some areas through Thursday, accompanied by floods and mudslides.
As climate change warms the world’s oceans, providing fuel for hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons, rapid intensification of storms is happening more often. Such developments are dangerous because it can take coastal residents and emergency officials by surprise when a storm has a huge burst of strength right before landfall.