Willa dissipates, but evacuations continue, towns cut off
MAZATLAN, Mexico -- Emergency workers and federal troops struggled to reach beach towns left incommunicado by a blow from Hurricane Willa, and the storm continued to force evacuations Wednesday due to fear of flooding even as it dissipated over northern Mexico. Thousands of homes were still without power.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or missing people, but the storm's 120 mph (195 kph) winds damaged a hospital, knocked out power, toppled wood-shack homes and ripped metal roofing off other houses in the Sinaloa state municipality of Escuinapa when it came ashore Tuesday evening.
Nearly 102,000 homes in Sinaloa lost electricity after the storm made landfall, the head of the state electricity company said on Twitter. Service had been restored to about 62 per cent of those.
The state civil defence office said the hospital's ceiling and some other areas were damaged in Escuinapa.
The worst damage was expected to be in the handful of coastal communities that were cut off by road and without communications. Workers were trying to remove toppled power poles and trees blocking the roads.
In the farming neighbourhood of Pueblo Nuevo, a half mile (kilometre) from Escuinapa's centre, neighbours cried when describing how the wind swept up their tin roofs and wooden house frames while they sheltered under their heaviest furniture.
Ruben Avila and his wife, Juana, told The Associated Press they were disappointed that government officials had not yet arrived with help, as they sat among their scattered belongings under pouring rain Wednesday. Mattresses and remains of their belongings lay soaked on the ground.
Meanwhile, pictures on social media depicted plastic-wrapped mattresses supposedly donated to Sinaloa residents after the storm in the name of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the jailed leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Mexican drug lord was extradited to New York in 2017 to face trafficking charges.
In neighbouring Nayarit state, Gov. Antonio Echevarria asked the federal government to send a helicopter, boats and rescue equipment. He said the state was trying to evacuate people in communities at risk of flooding. A government-run hospital shared pictures of a baby delivered in Acaponeta as the storm passed through.
The Interior Department announced late Wednesday that 12,000 soldiers, 3,800 sailors and 120 federal police officers had been sent to help. It said federal aircraft also were being deployed.
Before hitting the mainland near Isla del Bosque, Willa swept over an offshore penal colony about 60 miles (100 kilometres) out in the Pacific. Federal authorities declined to comment on precautions that were taken at the prison, citing security concerns, but said the safety of inmates was a priority.
Willa peaked as a Category 5 storm with winds of 155 mph (250 kph) over the Pacific on Monday. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm rapidly lost force and dissipated over northern Mexico Wednesday morning. Rain from Willa continued to fall across 10 Mexican states after the cyclone was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Concern about rains led Durango state to say it was evacuating 200 people threatened by possible spills from the Santa Elena dam. In Nayarit, the fire department urged residents in villages near the Acaponeta river to "evacuate immediately" as the river rose to dangerous levels.
Willa came ashore about 50 miles (80 kilometres) southeast of Mazatlan, a resort city that is home to high-rise hotels and about 500,000 people, including many U.S. and Canadian expatriates.
Torrential rains began in the afternoon, and emergency officials said they had evacuated more than 4,250 people in coastal towns and set up 58 shelters ahead of the storm. Schools were ordered closed.
----- Associated Press writer Isabella Cota in Mexico City contributed to this report.