Willa weakens to tropical despair

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Hurricane Willa has weakened rapidly into a tropical depression after slamming into a stretch of beach towns, fishing villages and farms along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

The now Category 3 storm did, however, continue to dump torrential rain over west-central Mexico.

Willa began losing power overnight after roaring over a stretch of beach towns, fishing villages and farms on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Sinaloa state with winds of 120 mph on Tuesday.

Federal officials said power had been knocked out in some spots and there were early reports of flimsy structures with tin roofs sustaining damage.

Before hitting the mainland near Isla del Bosque, Willa swept over an offshore penal colony about 60 miles out in the Pacific. Authorities declined to comment on precautions that were taken at the prison, citing security concerns, but said the safety of inmates was a priority.

The storm was rapidly losing power over northern Mexico and was down to tropical depression status before dawn, with maximum sustained winds of 35mph – down from its Category 5 peak of 155 mph over the Pacific on Monday.

Willa was centred about 75 miles east-northeast of Durango, Mexico, and heading to the northeast at 25mph. It was expected to dissipate later in the day, despite dumping heavy rain.

Willa came ashore about 50 miles southeast of Mazatlan, a resort city that is home to high-rise hotels and about 500,000 people, including many US and Canadian expatriates.

Although hotels, restaurants and stores were boarded over, people ventured onto Mazatlan’s coastal boulevard to watch a spectacular sunset as the hurricane obscured the sky to the south.

Torrential rain began in the afternoon, and emergency officials said they had evacuated more than 4,250 people in coastal towns and set up 58 shelters ahead of the dangerous storm. Schools were ordered closed.

As Willa neared, the beach in Mazatlan almost disappeared, with waves slamming against the coastal boulevard under looming black clouds. A few surfers enjoyed the big waves while the streets onshore were nearly deserted except for workers boarding up windows at hotels, shops and homes.

Some families took shelter at the Mazatlan convention center, spreading out blankets along the walls to wait out the storm.

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