Hurricane Patricia, strongest hurricane ever recorded, makes landfall in Mexico

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (AP) - Hurricane Patricia roared ashore in southwestern Mexico as a Category 5 storm Friday, bringing lashing rains, surging seas and cyclonic winds hours after it peaked as the strongest storm ever recorded. Forecasters said it had potential to do "catastrophic" damage.

"I've been trying to call all day and nobody answers," said the owner of Betos Salon in Denver, who can't connect with his mother Trinida, who lives in the area getting pounded by the hurricane. He is trying to keep calm as his family faces the wrath of Hurricane Patricia.

"There's barely nothing you can do,” he said.

Cesar's extended family lives in Patricia's path. He wishes he was them and his Mom.              

"She lives on a hill. The ocean is right in front of her, you know, she lives on a little high hill."

Cesar's last contact was Friday afternoon -- before the storm made landfall.

"You don't know, something is going to happen to the house, and everybody's in there, it just, I don't know."

Candles and crosses inside his salon are a source of strength.

He is asking for prayers of protection. "That's all you can do can do,” he said.

There were early reports of flooding and landslides, but no word on fatalities or major damage. TV news reports from the coast showed some toppled trees and lampposts and inundated streets.

In Puerto Vallarta, residents had reinforced homes with sandbags and shop windows with boards and tape, and hotels rolled up beachfront restaurants.

At a Red Cross shelter, some 90 people waited anxiously in the heavy, humid air, including senior citizens in wheelchairs and young children snuggled between their parents on mattresses on the floor.

Carla Torres and her family sought refuge there in the afternoon, fearful of what Patricia might do to her home just two blocks from a river in an area vulnerable to high winds.

"Here we are with those who can give us help," Torres said.

In Puerto Vallarta, residents had reinforced homes with sandbags and shop windows with boards and tape, and hotels rolled up beachfront restaurants.

At a Red Cross shelter, some 90 people waited anxiously in the heavy, humid air, including senior citizens in wheelchairs and young children snuggled between their parents on mattresses on the floor.

Carla Torres and her family sought refuge there in the afternoon, fearful of what Patricia might do to her home just two blocks from a river in an area vulnerable to high winds.

"Here we are with those who can give us help," Torres said.

Mexican officials declared a state of emergency in dozens of municipalities in Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco states, and schools were closed. Many residents bought supplies ahead of Patricia's arrival. Authorities opened hundreds of shelters and announced plans to shut off electricity as a safety precaution.

According to the 2010 census, there were more than 7.3 million inhabitants in Jalisco state and more than 255,000 in Puerto Vallarta municipality. There were more than 650,000 in Colima state, and more than 161,000 in Manzanillo.

One of the worst Pacific hurricanes to ever hit Mexico slammed into the same region, in Colima state, in October 1959, killing at least 1,500 people, according to Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention.

Earlier in the day, Roberto Ramirez, director of Mexico's National Water Commission, which includes the nation's meteorological service, said Patricia's winds could be powerful enough to lift automobiles, destroy homes not sturdily built with cement and steel, and drag anyone caught outside.

A steady rain fell in Puerto Vallarta in the evening, but there was no sign yet of the storm's vicious winds. Streets were deserted except for police patrolling slowly with their emergency lights on. Civil protection officials warned that past hurricanes have filled the city's streets with water, sand and flying projectiles.

Wendi Mozingo of Austin, Texas, and six family members sat on folding chairs in a shelter after being ordered out of their beachfront vacation rental home by managers of the property. They brought a few changes of clothes and left everything else behind.

The family was supposed to depart Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday, but now, Mozingo said, "We're leaving as soon as we can."

Brian Bournival of Portland, Oregon, who traveled to Puerto Vallarta for a friend's 40th birthday, decided to ride the storm out in his hotel because of heavy traffic on roads out of the city.

Bournival expressed confidence in the construction of his hotel a few blocks from the ocean, describing its foundations as "ginormous." He and a dozen other guests huddled in a common area with food, water and medical kits.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said tens of thousands of American citizens are believed to be vacationing or living in areas likely to be affected by the storm.

Jim Kossin, an atmospheric scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called Patricia "a three-pronged hazard" threatening high winds, saltwater storm surge and inland freshwater flooding from heavy rains.

Three airports in the storm's path were shut: Puerto Vallarta; Manzanillo in Colima state; and Tepic in Nayarit.

Jose Manuel Gonzalez Ochoa was one of the residents who decided to get out of Puerto Vallarta, to a town about 30 minutes from the coast. His family lives in their ground-floor chicken restaurant, Pollos Vallarta, and neighbors told them water was 5 feet deep in the street the last time a hurricane came through.

"The whole government is telling us to leave," he said. "You have to obey."

Brian Bournival of Portland, Oregon, who traveled to Puerto Vallarta for a friend's 40th birthday, decided to ride the storm out in his hotel because of heavy traffic on roads out of the city.

Bournival expressed confidence in the construction of his hotel a few blocks from the ocean, describing its foundations as "ginormous." He and a dozen other guests were huddled in a common area with food, water and medical kits.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said tens of thousands of American citizens were believed to be vacationing or living in areas likely to be affected by the storm.

Meteorologists said Patricia's small, 8-mile-wide eye wall would likely contract - a normal process that often weakens a storm slightly. But that may not be completely good news, because it would make the overall size of the storm slightly larger, said Jim Kossin, an atmospheric scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It's looking like a very bad disaster is shaping up," said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel.

Winds that restrain a storm were starting to pick up, so Patricia may weaken a bit to winds of about 175 mph at landfall - which would still be a top-of-the-chart hurricane, said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane hunter meteorologist.

Kossin called Patricia "a three-pronged hazard" that would likely wreak havoc with high winds, saltwater storm surge and inland freshwater flooding from heavy rains.

Three airports in Patricia's path were shut down: Puerto Vallarta; Manzanillo in Colima state; and Tepic in Nayarit.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the Mexican coast from San Blas to Punta San Telmo, and a broader area was under hurricane watch, tropical storm warning or tropical storm watch.

Earlier, fire trucks and ambulances rolled through the streets, sirens blaring, as emergency workers warned people in both Spanish and English to evacuate.

For Jose Manuel Gonzalez Ochoa, that made up his mind. His family lives in their ground-floor chicken restaurant, Pollos Vallarta, and neighbors told them water was 5 feet deep in the street the last time a hurricane came through.

Gonzalez Ochoa said the family was heading to a town 30 minutes from the coast. "The whole government is telling us to leave. You have to obey," he said.

Asked what preparations he would make for his business, he said he'd just close it up and see what's left after the storm passes.

Patricia also threatens Texas with forecasters saying that even after the storm breaks, up its tropical moisture will likely feed heavy rains already soaking the state.

The U.S. National Weather Service said a flash flood watch would be in effect through Sunday morning for Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

A coastal flood warning was in effect through Friday night in Corpus Christi. Galveston was under a coastal flood advisory until Saturday night.

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AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of Ochoa's restaurant is Pollos Vallarta.

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