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Category 5 Hurricane Patricia Nears Mexico's Pacific Coast

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NOAA satellite image. NOAA satellite image.
NOAA Hurricane tracking map. NOAA Hurricane tracking map.
MANZANILLO, Mexico -

Residents of a stretch of Mexico's Pacific Coast dotted with resorts and fishing villages boarded up homes and bought supplies ahead of Friday's arrival of Hurricane Patricia, a monster Category 5 storm that forecasters warned could be catastrophic.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Patricia is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western hemisphere. Dave Roberts, a hurricane specialist at the Hurricane Center, said Friday morning that the storm is the strongest one they've seen in the eastern Pacific or in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds of 200 mph.

The World Meteorological Organization says Patricia is now comparable to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 6,300 in the Philippines in 2013, the Reuters news service reports.

Category 5 is the highest designation on the Saffir-Simpson scale used to quantify a hurricane's wind strength.

Patricia was centered about 160 miles south-southwest of Manzanillo early Friday and moving northwest at 10 mph on a projected track to come ashore between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta sometime Friday afternoon or evening.

Some fluctuations in intensity were forecast before then, but the Hurricane Center said it was expected to be an "extremely dangerous" Category 5 storm when it made landfall.

Officials declared a state of emergency in dozens of municipalities in Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco states that contain the bustling port of Manzanillo and the posh resort of Puerto Vallarta. The governor of Colima ordered schools closed on Friday, when the storm was forecast to make what the U.S. National Hurricane Center called a "potentially catastrophic landfall."

Rain pounded Manzanillo late Thursday while people took last-minute measures ahead of Patricia, which quickly grew from a tropical storm into the Category 5 hurricane, leaving authorities scrambling to make people safe.

At a Walmart in Manzanillo, shoppers filled carts with non-perishables as a steady rain fell outside.

Veronica Cabrera, shopping with her young son, said Manzanillo tends to flood with many small streams overflowing their banks. She said she had taped her windows at home to prevent them from shattering.

Alejandra Rodriguez, shopping with her brother and mother, was buying 10 liters of milk, a large jug of water and items like tuna and canned ham that do not require refrigeration or cooking. The family already blocked the bottoms of the doors at their home to keep water from entering.

Manzanillo's "main street really floods and cuts access to a lot of other streets. It ends up like an island," Rodriguez said.

In Puerto Vallarta, restaurants and stores taped or boarded-up windows, and residents raced to stores for last-minute purchases ahead of the storm.

The Hurricane Center in Miami warned that preparations should be rushed to completion, saying the storm could cause coastal flooding, destructive waves and flash floods.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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