Hurricane Patricia Targets Mexico; 400K People, Ports, Insurers at Risk

By Nacha Cattan, Brendan Case and Eric Martin | October 23, 2015

Hurricane Patricia, the strongest in the history of the Americas, prepared to barrel into Mexico’s Pacific coast Friday, sending guests fleeing hotels in the Puerto Vallarta resort area.

About 400,000 people are considered “vulnerable,” civil protection official Jose Maria Tapia told reporters in Mexico City. The Category 5 storm is packing winds as fast as 200 miles per hour.

Patricia is expected to make landfall Friday between Vallarta and Manzanillo, Mexico’s busiest container port. The “extremely dangerous” hurricane will trigger life-threatening mudslides and flash floods as it heads its way north toward Texas, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

“We can’t underestimate the magnitude of this phenomenon,” Roberto Ramirez, chief of Mexico’s National Water Commission, said in a message streamed on the Internet Friday, urging residents to take precautions or evacuate. “A Category 5 hurricane could lift cars, destroy houses that aren’t built with steel, rebar and cement, and sweep people away.”

The storm could cause more than $3 billion in damages, with about a sixth of that total incurred by insurers, according to a projection by Kinetic Analysis Corp. It has already forced the closure of ports in Vallarta, Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas, according to the Communications and Transportation Ministry. Manzanillo has a liquefied natural gas terminal and a rail line operated by Ferromex, owned by Grupo Mexico SAB and Union Pacific Corp.

Everest Re Group Ltd. was among insurers that declined in New York trading. The Bermuda-based company fell 1.4 percent to $179.06. Zurich-based Ace Ltd., which expanded in Mexico with the 2013 purchase of ABA Seguros, dropped 0.3 percent. Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico SAB, which operates airports in Vallarta, Manzanillo and Guadalajara, fell as much as 7.5 percent to 141.90 pesos for the biggest intraday decline in almost four years.

The peso weakened 0.8 percent, the most among Latin American currencies.

About half of the 15,000 tourists in Nayarit state, just north of Vallarta, are expected to be evacuated to Guadalajara, Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid told Milenio TV. The luxury St. Regis Hotel in Punta Mita, Nayarit, evacuated all 160 guests early Friday and isn’t taking reservations, which can run as steep as $2,730 a night, according to public relations director Paulina Feltrin.

A Marriott International Inc. resort in Vallarta was also evacuated and closed, the company said in a statement. Some guests left the area entirely while others were relocated to hotels in Guadalajara, 125 miles away.

Taxis in the area were busy transferring guests to Guadalajara, where many tourists are flying home after Vallarta shuttered its international airport.

“Everything is closed. There’s no one here,” said Federico Armenta, who manned a taxi stand outside Punta de Mita’s main beach-front drag minutes before leaving the town himself. “All of our cabs are heading to Guadalajara.”

Most guests at Manzanillo’s Las Hadas resort had left by early Friday, according to Lety Mancilla, a hotel employee.

“Almost all the guests are gone,” she said by telephone. “The hotel is well built and we have a secure area for the ones that are left.”

Bank branches and other financial institutions were set to close at 12 p.m. in Vallarta, Manzanillo and other coastal towns, the Finance Ministry said in a statement. Gas stations in the affected areas were also planning to close, according to state-owned oil producer Petroleos Mexicanos.

The sudden expansion of Patricia in the past two days may be linked with the El Nino phenomenon. The change in ocean temperatures may already have contributed to Typhoon Koppu that killed 40 people in the Philippines last week and Hurricane Joaquin, which sank the container ship El Faro in the Bahamas at the beginning of the month. The emergence this year of El Nino has also helped push global temperatures to record highs.

A Mexican envoy at United Nations climate change negotiations today choked back tears as he warned of the storm’s impending impact and recalled how a hurricane pounded the beach resort of Acapulco in 2013. Roberto Dondisch addressed a packed plenary hall in Bonn after a week of negotiations to draft a new climate agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a level 5 hurricane, the biggest super hurricane ever recorded in that area,” Dondisch said. “I don’t think I have to say more about the urgency of getting this deal done.”

–With assistance from Andrea Navarro in Mexico City, Alex Morales in Bonn, Germany, Brian K. Sullivan in Boston and Sonali Basak in New York

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