Hurricane Agatha makes landfall in southern Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Hurricane Agatha, the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the eastern Pacific, slammed into a tourist beach and fishing town in southern Mexico on Monday.

Torrential rain and high winds swept palm trees and drove tourists and residents into shelters.

Oaxaca’s civil protection agency showed some families crowded into a shelter in Pochutra, where a rock and dirt landslide blocked the highway between the town and the state capital.

Agatha made landfall about 5 miles (10 km) west of Port Angel as a severe Category 2 storm with a maximum sustained wing speed of 105 mph (165 km/h). It was moving northeastward at 8 mph (13 km/h).

Near Port Angel, gusty winds, heavy rain and huge waves began to hit the beach town of Zipolite, long known for its dressy beaches and bohemian vibes.

“There was a lot of rain and sudden strong winds,” said Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel in Zipolite. “The ocean was really stirred and it was raining a lot,” said Ranfani, who decided to ride Agatha on the land. “You can hear the wind whistling.”

State emergency officials said they had formed a task force of more than 9,300 people for the region and opened more than 200 shelters as forecasters warned of dangerous storm surges and flooding from heavy rains.

After forming on Sunday, Agatha quickly gained strength and made landfall as a severe Category 2 hurricane on Monday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said.

Agatha was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the eastern Pacific in May, said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at Yale Climate Connect and founder of Weather Underground.

He said hurricanes in the region usually start with tropical waves coming off the coast of Africa.

“Because the African monsoon typically doesn’t start producing tropical waves until early or mid-May, there simply isn’t enough initial disturbance to trigger many eastern Pacific hurricanes in May,” Masters wrote in an email. Also, water temperatures in May are cooler than peak season and wind shear is usually higher.”

Masters wasn’t sure if Agatha was lifted by tropical waves — areas of low pressure that travel across the tropics — but the storm benefited from warm water and low wind shear.

Agatha accelerated slightly late Monday morning, moving toward areas near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in southern Oaxaca state. The area includes the leisure tourism destinations Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.

Agatha could “bring extremely dangerous storm surge and life-threatening winds,” the hurricane center said.

The storm is expected to bring 10 to 16 inches (250 to 400 mm) of rain in parts of Oaxaca, with an isolated maximum of 20 inches (500 mm), the National Hurricane Center said, creating flash floods and Threat of mudslides.

According to the Hurricane Center, little change in intensity is expected until the storm makes landfall. A hurricane warning is in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and Lagunas de Chacahua.

In Huatulco, the municipality cancelled schools and ordered the “absolute closure” of all beaches and their seven bays, many of which are only accessible by boat.

The government’s Mexican Turtle Center – a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazut – announced it was closed to tourists due to the hurricane until further notice.

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