Mexicans hail ‘miracle in the mountains’ as Hurricane Patricia crisis averted

MANZANILLO, Mexico — Mexicans woke up to good news Saturday morning. The day before, authorities had announced that the most powerful hurricane ever seen in the Western Hemisphere would hit the country’s southwest coast. Many projected it would claim thousands of human lives and millions in damages. But after hitting land with 165 mph winds, the category-5 monster was quickly downgraded to a category-1 tropical storm.

On Friday afternoon, most of the coastal communities in the states of Jalisco and Colima looked like ghost towns. Some 3,000 people were evacuated from the main commercial port of Manzanillo, Colima and taken to shelters in other cities such as Guadalajara.

DSC_1239Luis Chaparro.

The storm knocked down several trees.

By Saturday, though, the sun was shining in Manzanillo, the first major city hit by Patricia. There were just a few trees knocked down along with some house roofs and flooding.

Authorities and media were comparing the expected catastrophe to the Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in 2013, leaving more than 6,000 dead.

Although it has lost strength, Patricia’s trajectory continues and is now causing flooding in some parts of Texas. Damages in Mexico are still being assessed but so far no deaths have been reported and Mexicans definitely did not get the Armageddon they were preparing for. Authorities continue to work around the clock to protect communities from heavy rain, winds and potential mudslides

DSC_1261Luis Chaparro

A local business owner assesses damage.

“The damage has been less than that expected for a hurricane of this magnitude,” President Enrique Peña Nieto told the nation.

People in Manzanillo expressed relief.

“We are surprised and happy at the same time. We were expecting a catastrophe and today everything is fine,” said Oscar Cepeda, a 29-year-old resident.

The hospitals were prepared to help thousands of victims. As it turned out, they didn’t need to.

“We had one man injured in the hand by a broken window, and another one with a broken leg. But that was it,” Cesar Pimentel, the director of Manzanillo’s General Hospital, told Fusion. Pimentel even had to turn down assistance from other neighboring states.

Many applauded the authorities for reacting quickly and not taking any chances.

“Representatives of the Mexican government evacuated us since Friday morning and were very helpful,” said local gas station worker Claudia Ortega.

Others are thanking the ‘miracle in the mountains,’ a reference to the range surrounding Colima state.

Taxi driver Fernando González told Fusion that those mountains saved the day.

“The mountains slowed down the winds. We wouldn’t be here telling this story if those mountains weren’t there,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”

González was back at his job the morning after the hurricane hit.

González was back at his job the morning after the hurricane hit.

There weren’t sighs of relief for everyone. Small southwest communities like Barra de Navidad and Melaque got hit hard.

Daniel Rodriguez, resident of Barra de Navidad, said that his home and those of his neighbors are no longer hospitable.

“It was all flooded, my windows broke and the roof was ripped in a few seconds,” he said.

President Peña Nieto announced this afternoon he will be visiting these communities to supervise federal government aid.