Hurricane Kenna slams into Mexican coast; tens of thousands evacuated
Friday, October 25th 2002, 12:00 am
News On 6
TEPIC, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane Kenna crashed into Mexico's Pacific coast Friday, knocking out electricity, flinging trees onto cars and flooding swimming pools with seawater. Tens of thousands of people fled inland ahead of the powerful storm.
There were no immediate reports of deaths, but officials evacuated more than 20,000 people from coastal areas before Kenna hit land about 40 miles northwest of Tepic with winds of 140 mph.
Waves thundered over the coastal boulevard of Puerto Vallarta, 60 miles to the southwest, and swept into hotel swimming pools. Power was out for much of the city.
``This is the most exciting thing that's happened to me since I gave birth,'' Dana Segura, a 55-year-old grocery clerk from Rohnert Park, Calif., said at a small hotel about a block from the Puerto Vallarta seafront.
The brunt of the storm _ the most powerful to hit Mexico's Pacific coast in decades _ fell on Nayarit state, where Gov. Antonio Echeverria met with aides by the light of a battery-powered fluorescent lamp. Power was knocked out in parts of Tepic, a state capital with a population of 250,000, and officials cut the rest due to danger from downed power lines.
``We are worried because never before in the history of the state have we had a phenomenon of this magnitude,'' Echeverria said, flinching as a metal window guard banged against the glass.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm hit land near the fishing and tourist town of San Blas. Sustained winds _ which reached 160 mph Thursday _ dropped to 140 mph before the storm struck the coast, then slipped to 115 mph as it moved over land.
Nayarit Civil Defense Director Jose Heriberto Betancourt said 20,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas of his state. Neighboring Jalisco and Sinaloa states reported thousands more evacuations.
Red Cross officials said the coastal highway from Tepic to Mazatlan was washed out, blocking ambulances. Telephone communication with San Blas and some other coastal communities was difficult.
Trees and power lines littered the streets of Tepic, 20 miles from the sea at 3,000 feet in a coastal mountain range. Falling branches smashed into cars.
About 3,000 evacuees, most from San Blas, gathered at a Tepic high school where classrooms were crowded with children sleeping on blankets.
``You can replace things, but not life,'' said Alicia Ortiz, 46, who brought her two sons to the shelter. Her husband stayed in San Blas to protect the ice factory where he works.
In Puerto Vallarta, Hazel Burns, a 26-year-old British student, said she and her friends had tried to leave the resort early Friday, but their bus was forced back by a fallen tree blocking the road.
Back in town, they took a taxi through flooded streets, past floating cars and fleeing seaside residents.
``I don't think I've ever been so scared in my entire life. All the cars were swimming around. We didn't know what direction to go,'' she said.
``The taxi driver was excited and kept saying, 'Hey, look at this!' I didn't want to look. I was just saying to myself, 'Just keep going, keep going!'''
Earlier fears that the storm would disrupt a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, evaporated when Kenna turned to the east. Landfall Friday came 180 miles southeast of the summit site.
Kenna appeared to hit land with the strongest Pacific Coast winds since Hurricane Madeline came ashore near Zihuatanejo in 1976 with 144 mph winds.