Hurricane Jova blamed for 3 deaths in Mexico
Power and communication networks down in some Pacific coast towns
The Associated Press Posted: Oct 12, 2011 7:02 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 13, 2011 4:32 AM ET
Hurricane Jova slammed into Mexico’s Pacific coast as a Category 2 storm early Wednesday, killing three people and injuring six, while a tropical depression hit farther south and unleashed steady rains that contributed to 13 deaths across the border in Guatemala.
Jova came ashore west of the Mexican port of Manzanillo and the beach town of Barra de Navidad before dawn with 160 km/h winds and heavy rains, before moving inland and weakening to a tropical depression by afternoon. It continued to dump rain over a large swath of northwest Mexico, including Jalisco state where rainfall this year had been low.
A 71-year-old woman drowned in Colima state after a strong current swept away the car in which she and her son were riding. Her son survived, Colima Gov. Mario Anguiano said.
In the neighbouring state of Jalisco, Jova triggered a mudslide in the town of Cihuatlan, just inland from Barra de Navidad, that swept away a house on a hillside, killing two of its occupants, said Oscar Mejia, the spokesman for the Jalisco state Red Cross rescue division.
Farther northwest along the Mexican coast, in the town of Tomatlan, two children suffered head injuries when the walls of their brick home collapsed under the force of the wind and rains, Mejia said.
The new tropical depression formed in the Pacific off far-southern Mexico near the Guatemala border, with maximum sustained winds near 55 km/h, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported. The storm quickly moved ashore over Mexico and was expected to move slightly north before dissipating before day’s end.
Families took refuge Tuesday in a classroom in Jaluco, Mexico, as Hurricane Jova neared. (Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)
The storm was smaller and less powerful than Jova, but the mountainous terrain of southern Mexico state of Chiapas and neighboring Guatemala is particularly vulnerable to flash flooding and mudslides. Numerous Indian villages perch precariously on hillsides.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom blamed rain from the storm for the deaths of 13 people in his country. At least four of those were electrocuted when contacted power lines, Colom said. Others died in mudslides or were swept away by swollen rivers.
National Hurricane Center forecaster John Cangialosi said the rains in Guatemala probably were linked to the tropical depression, even though it had not yet hit land.
“If they’re in Guatemala, they’re pretty close to the circulation center of the system, and it has been a very slow-moving system … so it’s likely linked to this feature,” Cangialosi said.
Jova threatens Pan Am Games opening
Jova threatened to affect the opening ceremony Friday in the Pan American Games.
Bernardo de la Garza, president of Mexico’s sports and culture commission, says there are no plans to change the date of the ceremony. But he acknowledges portions of the show might have to be altered.
He also says the heavy rain falling on Mexico’s west coast might affect training sessions for triathlon, sailing and beach volleyball, all three of which will be held in the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta.
Farther north on Mexico’s coast, flooding from Jova was so bad in Cihuatlan that the Red Cross office had to be evacuated because it was filled with 1.5 meters of water.
Jova also forced the closure of navigation in Manzanillo, Mexico’s second-biggest non-oil cargo port, flooded some neighborhoods there and brought down power lines and billboards.
Israel Arriaga, 38, rode out the hurricane with his wife and two children in the Valle de las Garzas neighbourhood, where at least one home collapsed and water rose waist-high.
Around 2 a.m., “I heard a very loud noise,” Arriaga said. “It was the water coming in.” There were strange flashes of lightning and “the waves sounded like a dam about to burst.”
The home of retired soldier Ernesto Huerta, 55, in Valle de las Garzas was flooded knee-high with water. Huerta had put his furniture up on bricks in advance but didn’t leave.
The U.S. Hurricane Centre said Jova’s maximum sustained winds were near 160 km/h when it hit, but it weakened steadily as it moved inland and winds were down to tropical storm force by late morning, with winds of 104 km/h by 10 a.m. ET.
Still packing heavy rains, tropical storm Jova passed within about 20 kilometres of Puerto Vallarta, where officials piled sandbags and tarps across the beach volleyball court that will be used in the Pan American Games that start Friday.
Callers told local station Radio Turquesa that water was more than a metre deep in some neighbourhoods and schools, some used for shelters, were closed for the day.
Before nightfall Tuesday, marines visited flood-prone areas in Manzanillo to advise people to leave. They found a home for elderly people whose homes were already flooded and evacuated dozens of people to stay with relatives, Adm. Jaime Mejia said. Forty others were evacuated in the nearby town of Tecoman, he said.
Some people vowed to ride out the storm, while others took refuge at shelters in towns like Jaluco, just inland from the beach community of Barra de Navidad.
“My house has a thatch roof, and it’s not safe,” said Maria de Jesus Palomera Delgado, 44, a farmworker’s wife who went to an improvised shelter at a grade school in Jaluco, along with her 17 children and grandchildren.
“The neighbours told us the house was going to collapse” if hit by the hurricane, she added as the children slept nearby on folding cots packed into a classroom.
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In another classroom, migrant farmworker Rufina Francisco Ventura, 27, fed her two-month-old son. She said she had left the ranch where she plants chiles and tomatoes planning only to pick up some free blankets, but shelter workers “told me I shouldn’t leave here, because it’s going to hit hard.”
Jalisco state authorities evacuated about 200 people to shelters by Tuesday and issued alerts over loudspeakers placed in communities along the coast, telling people to take precautions as the hurricane approached, state civil defence spokesman Juan Pablo Vigueras said. The state had 69 shelters ready, he said.
Flash floods, landslides possible
Authorities also set up shelters for residents of inland towns, where the mountainous terrain could cause flash floods and mudslides, which often pose the greatest dangers in hurricanes.
The Mexican army said it had assigned about 1,500 soldiers to hurricane preparedness and relief efforts.
A new tropical depression formed to the southeast, with maximum sustained winds near 55 km/h, and the Hurricane Center said it could become a tropical storm later in the day.
The system caused heavy rainfall in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. Chiapas and neighbouring Guatemala are particularly vulnerable to flash flooding and mudslides, because of their mountainous terrain and numerous small Indian villages perched on hillsides.
The depression was centred about 64 kilometres from the Chiapas coast and was moving north near seven km/h. The hurricane centre said the depression’s centre was expected to approach the coast Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, tropical storm Irwin lost some strength farther out in the Pacific with winds near 65 km/h. While it was expected to move eastward toward land, forecasts indicated it probably wouldn’t make landfall.