Hurricane Agatha made history as the strongest hurricane ever recorded to come ashore in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane centre, making landfall on a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages in southern Mexico.
The storm came ashore in Oaxaca state Monday afternoon as a strong Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 165 km/h, then it quickly lost power as it moved inland over the mountainous interior.
Agatha was downgraded to a tropical storm late Monday, its sustained winds down to 110 km/h.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm should dissipate overnight, but warned that the system’s heavy rains still posed a threat of dangerous flash floods for Mexico’s southern states.
Torrential rains and howling winds whipped palm trees and drove tourists and residents into shelters. Oaxaca state’s civil defence agency showed families hustling into a shelter in Pochutla and a rock and mud slide that blocked a highway.
‘You can hear the wind howling’
Heavy rain and big waves lashed the beach town of Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe.
“There is a lot of rain and sudden gusts of strong wind,” said Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel in Zipolite. Ranfagni, who decided to ride out Agatha at the property, said, “You can hear the wind howling.”
In the surfing town of Puerto Escondido, people took shelter and put up plywood to prevent windows from breaking in the strong winds.
The government’s Mexican Turtle Center — a former slaughterhouse turned conservation centre in Mazunte — closed to visitors because of the hurricane.
Agatha formed only on Sunday and quickly gained power. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific, said Jeff Masters, meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections and the founder of Weather Underground.
He said the region’s hurricanes typically get their start from tropical waves coming off the coast of Africa.
“Since the African monsoon typically does not start producing tropical waves until early- or mid-May, there simply aren’t enough initial disturbances to get many eastern Pacific hurricanes in May. In addition, May water temperatures are cooler than they are at the peak of the season, and wind shear is typically higher.”
Winds of 165 km/h and 6-meter-high waves
Hurricane Agatha weakened after it made landfall as a category 2 hurricane in La Redonda, municipality of San Pedro Pochutla in Oaxaca on 30 May 2022. Winds of 165 km/h and waves of up to 6 metres were reported on the coast of Oaxaca. Agatha is thought to be the strongest ever hurricane to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific.
Mexico’s Comisión Nacional del Agua (CONAGUA) issued warnings for heavy rain in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Campeche, Guerrero, Veracruz and Tabasco. Santa María Huatulco in Oaxaca recorded 240 mm of rain in 24 hours to 31 May, according to figures from CONAGUA. During the same period, Rosendo Salazar in Chiapas saw 90.4 mm, La Cangrejera in Veracruz 96 mm and Monclova in Campeche 90.4 mm.
The governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat, announced on 31 May that 11 people are thought to have lost their lives in the storm, with a further 32 people still missing or unaccounted for.
These are preliminary figures and are expected to change as the situation becomes clearer. The governor said many of the fatalities were a result of flooding or landslides.
The worst affected areas include San Juan Ozolotepec, Santiago Xanica, Santa María Huatulco, Pochutla, Asunción Tlacolulita and San Mateo Piñas. Areas of Santa Maria Tonameca municipality were flooded after the Tonameca river overflowed. Civil Protection in Oaxaca said levels of the Copalita River jumped rapidly in parts of San Miguel del Puerto municipality.
Floods, wind damage and landslides blocked several roads including the federal highway 175 which connects the Oaxaca coast with Veracruz. At least 2 bridges have been severely damaged. Damage to power infrastructure left over 200,000 people without electricity.
The US National Hurricane Center warned that remnants of Agatha are expected to produce heavy rainfall across southeastern Mexico during the next day or two. Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides are possible. [CBC, Floodlist]
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