Authorities are rushing to evacuate low-lying areas and set up shelters as an “extremely dangerous” Hurricane Willa with winds of 130mph (215km/h) heads toward landfall along a stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coast dotted with high-rise resorts, surfing beaches and fishing villages.
Thousands of people were evacuated, buildings were boarded up and schools were closed in the low-lying region where towns sit amid farmland tucked between the sea and lagoons.
Residents sealed off windows and doors with large wooden planks on hotels facing the historic downtown boardwalk of Mazatlán, a popular coastal city in the north-western state of Sinaloa.
Further south, meanwhile, Mexican officials reported that there had been 12 deaths related to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Vicente.
Forecast to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, Willa was blowing maximum sustained winds of about 120 mph (193 kph) with higher gusts, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
On Monday, Willa briefly reached category 5 strength, before weakening to a category 3 on Tuesday.
But the National Hurricane Center warned that it still was likely to bring “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall” to parts of west-central and south-western Mexico when it makes landfall on Tuesday afternoon.
A decree of “extraordinary emergency” was issued for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states, Mexico’s interior department announced.
The Nayarit governor, Antonio Echevarría, said more than 10,000 people were being evacuated and schools would be closed. He warned local residents not to defy the storm. “Let’s not play the macho,” he said. “Let’s not act like superheroes. It’s a very strong hurricane, very powerful, and we don’t want any tragedies.”
At a gas station on the outskirts of Mazatlán, a steady line of cars waited to refuel and shop at the neighboring convenience store on Monday night.
Zulema Pardo, a station attendant, said residents had been streaming through for hours to stock up on basic items, buying enormous jugs of water and gasoline, and leaving the bread shelf completely empty.
“People are really scared,” she said. “People are crazy and worked up.”
The hurricane was nearing the Islas Marías, a group of islands about 60 miles (96km) offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison. Forecasters said Willa would blow ashore in late afternoon somewhere along a 140-mile stretch from Mazatlán to San Blas.
Early Tuesday, Willa was centered about 75 miles south-west of the Islas Marías and 175 miles south-south-west of Mazatlán. It was moving north at 5mph, but was forecast to make a turn to the northeast.
Hurricane-force winds extended 35 miles from the storm’s core, and tropical-storm-force winds were up to 125 miles out.
The US hurricane center warned that Willa could bring six to 12in (15 to 30cm) of rain – with up to 18in in some places – to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.
Farther to the south, Tropical Storm Vicente had weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday, but it was still bringing heavy rainfall that caused dangerous flooding in southern and south-western Mexico.
Officials in Oaxaca state said seven adults and five children had died in drownings or mudslides.
This article includes reporting by AP and Reuters