Hurricane Willa weakens to Category 3, closes in on tourist city of Mazatlan

  • Willa was weakened to a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Tuesday morning.
  • Forecast to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, Willa was expected to gradually weaken further before striking a few miles south of Mazatlan as soon as Tuesday afternoon.
Workers protect a storefront with wood panels at the Mazatlan port in Sinaloa state, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa.
Alfredo Estrella | AFP | Getty Images
Workers protect a storefront with wood panels at the Mazatlan port in Sinaloa state, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018, before the arrival of Hurricane Willa.

Thousands of people were evacuated, buildings were boarded up and schools closed on Mexico's Pacific coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Willa threatened to batter tourist resorts with high winds and heavy rains.

Residents had sealed off windows and doors with large wooden planks on hotels facing the historic downtown boardwalk of Mazatlan, a popular coastal city in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Willa, which weakened to a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Tuesday morning, was blowing maximum sustained winds of around 125 miles per hour (201 kph) with higher gusts, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. It had been a Category 4 storm earlier on Tuesday and had reached rare Category 5 status on Monday with winds near 160 mph (260 kph).

Forecast to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years, Willa was expected to gradually weaken further before striking a few miles south of Mazatlan as soon as Tuesday afternoon.

On Tuesday morning the storm was about 130 miles (209 km) south-southwest of Mazatlan, the hurricane center said. In Mazatlan, a steady rain fell with a slight breeze, while runners and tourists were out on the boardwalk. Some young men were surfing the higher-than-usual waves.