Hurricane Willa grew into a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm and swept toward Mexico’s Pacific coast with winds of 160 mph (260 kph) Monday, threatening a stretch of high-rise resort hotels, surfing beaches and fishing villages.

The hurricane was expected to pass over or near the Islas Marias — a set of islands about 60 miles offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison — early Tuesday, then blow ashore in the afternoon or the evening somewhere along a 140-mile (220-kilometer) section extending from the resort town of Mazatlan to San Blas.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said early Monday that Willa could “produce life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall over portions of southwestern and west-central Mexico beginning on Tuesday.”

A hurricane warning was posted for Mexico’ coast between San Blas and Mazatlan. Tropical storm warnings were raised from Playa Perula to San Blas and north of Mazatlan to Bahia Tempehuaya.

It was projected to weaken somewhat before hitting land but was still expected to be extremely dangerous.

The governments of Sinaloa and Nayarit states ordered coastal region schools to close and began preparing emergency shelters.

Mazatlan, with a metropolitan-area population of about 500,000, is a popular vacation spot. It is closer to the U.S. than most other Pacific resorts and home to a large number of American and Canadian expatriates.

Willa had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (249 kph) early Monday and was centered about 195 miles (315 kilometers) south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes. It was moving to the north at 5 mph (8 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Willa could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain — with up to 18 inches (45 centimeters) in some places — to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.

Farther to the south, Tropical Storm Vicente weakened but was still expected to produce heavy rainfall and flooding over parts of southern and southwestern Mexico.

Source: The Associated Press

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