US southwest on high alert as Hurricane Hilary climbs Mexico coast


States across the typically arid US southwest were racing Saturday to prepare for life-threatening flooding forecast as Hurricane Hilary approaches from Mexico, where damage and one death were reported.

A Saturday night bulletin from the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Hilary’s winds had significantly weakened but were still sustained at a hazardous 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour) with higher gusts.

On the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, that would put the storm at a Category 1, down from its Category 4 peak.

The storm’s center “will move close to the west-central coast of the Baja California Peninsula” Saturday night and Sunday Morning, the NHC said, and “then move across southern California Sunday afternoon.”

“Heavy rains” were affecting portions of Baja California and the southwestern United States, with “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding likely.”

The storm is expected to weaken into a tropical storm before reaching southern California and southern Nevada, with heavy rainfall and flooding still possible.

Mexico’s Civil Protection agency said in a statement Saturday that river and stream levels had risen significantly in Loreto and Mulege on Baja California’s east coast, which was also hit by landslides and road closures.

It added that one person had died after a vehicle was swept away by a stream in Mulege.

Residents and workers in the Mexican tourist resort of Cabo San Lucas have put up protective boarding and laid thousands of sandbags as large waves crash ashore.

Military personnel were seen patrolling the beach in the city, a popular destination for both Mexican and foreign tourists at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.

“We took all the precautionary measures last night,” Omar Olvera told AFP on Saturday at the Cabo San Lucas beachfront restaurant where he works.

With sandbags piled protectively around the restaurant, he said, “We’re just looking out for the workers and waiting for the weather to come.” 

Streets in the town of Todos Santos, on the west coast of the peninsula, were largely deserted Saturday while the nearby beach in Los Cerritos was closed due to rough waves.

“Last night, we felt the wind picking up, it wasn’t as strong as we were expecting but it still caused us to worry,” said Marco Segura, a 57-year-old worker in Los Cerritos.

The Mexican government deployed almost 19,000 soldiers in the states most affected by the storm, while the federal electric utility has sent 800 workers and hundreds of vehicles to respond to any outages.

In the United States, “rainfall amounts of three to six inches, with isolated amounts of 10 inches, are expected across portions of southern California and southern Nevada,” the NHC said.

“Dangerous to catastrophic flooding is expected.”

Nancy Ward, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said Hilary could be one of the worst storms to hit the state in more than a decade.

“Make no mistake,” she told a press conference Saturday. “This is a very, very dangerous and significant storm.”

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed teams to areas targeted by Hilary ahead of the storm, while Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for much of California’s southern area.

US President Joe Biden, who was at a rented vacation home with his family on Lake Tahoe along the California-Nevada border, was briefed Saturday by senior staff on preparations for the storm, the White House said.

Biden and his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, are planning to visit Hawaii on Monday to survey wildfire damage as recovery operations continue.

In San Diego, the US Navy said ships and submarines would be heading out to sea on Saturday ahead of the storm’s arrival.

“Safety remains our top priority, and putting all capable ships to sea makes it easier for us to manage the situation ashore,” said US Third Fleet commander Michael Boyle in a press release.

Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have rescheduled games planned for Sunday in the US region.

Hurricanes hit Mexico every year on both its Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Although the storms sometimes affect California, it is rare for cyclones to strike the state with much intensity.

Scientists have warned that storms are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer with climate change.

Hurricane Hilary,

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