Otis made landfall near the resort city of Acapulco on the southern Pacific Coast of Mexico as a Category 5 hurricane, bringing record winds and rainfall that could create a “nightmare scenario” of flooding and mudslides, forecasters said early Wednesday.
Hurricane Otis’s maximum sustained winds had grown to 165 miles per hour with stronger gusts at about 12:25 a.m. local time, when it made landfall, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm formed in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, became a Category 1 hurricane midday Tuesday and “explosively intensified” in a matter of hours, becoming the strongest storm ever to hit this part of Mexico, forecasters said.
Otis threatens a coast dotted with fishing villages and beach resorts as they gear up for their peak winter season. Along its path lies Acapulco, a large port city and a popular tourist destination home to more than 852,000 people, according to the Mexican government.
“This is an extremely serious situation for the Acapulco metropolitan area with the core of the destructive hurricane likely to come near or over that large city early on Wednesday,” the National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday night.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Pacific Coast of the state of Guerrero by Tuesday morning, from the beach town of Punta Maldonado to the resort city of Zihuatanejo, forecasters said. A hurricane watch was in effect for part of the western coast of the state of Oaxaca, from Punta Maldonado to Lagunas de Chacahua.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico urged residents in Guerrero to brace for the storm.
“Agree to move to shelters, stay in safe places: away from rivers, streams, ravines, and be alert,” he said.
Mexico’s National Coordination of Civil Protection said that it had evacuated residents in dangerous areas to temporary shelters in Acapulco and Tecpán de Galeana. It also recommended Acapulco residents to take shelter, avoid crossing streams and flooded streets, and stay away from areas prone to landslides.
Winds will be “extremely destructive” in the areas under the hurricane warning, forecasters said. A storm surge was expected to produce “life-threatening coastal flooding” near and to the east of the storm’s center when it makes landfall, forecasters added.
The rainfall could cause flash and urban flooding, as well as mudslides in the mountainous areas, forecasters said. Otis was expected to bring eight to 16 inches of rain on average across Guerrero and the western coastal sections of Oaxaca through Thursday, with maximum amounts of 20 inches.
It is uncommon for storms to maintain Category 5 strength when they make landfall because they usually lose energy over shallower waters.
Tropical storms with wind speeds greater than 157 m.p.h. are classified as Category 5 hurricanes, the rarest and strongest class on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
“There are no hurricanes on record even close to this intensity for this part of Mexico,” the center added.
Mexico’s Pacific Coast was hit by a Category 5 storm in October 2015, when Hurricane Patricia unleashed ferocious winds and rains that astonished meteorologists, forcing hotels to evacuate, airlines to cancel flights and cruise lines to ground ships. There were no immediate reports of casualties at the time.