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Hurricane Kenna Grows to Category 5

October 24, 2002

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PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane Kenna grew into one of the strongest storms to menace Mexico’s Pacific coast in decades on Thursday, with forecasters urging emergency action in an area that includes major tourist resorts.

The Category 5 hurricane with winds of 160 mph was veering away from a Baja California summit of world leaders. A hurricane watch was posted for a 200-mile area between Cabo Corrientes and the tourist center of Mazatlan, and a tropical storm watch extended another 125 miles southeast from Cabo Corrientes to Manzanillo.

A Category 5 hurricane, the strongest category, is considered capable of causing catastrophic damage.

``This is a potentially devastating hurricane if it comes in at this intensity or even if it weakens a little bit,″ said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

``Based on the records, which go back 40 or 50 years, this would be one of the two or three strongest″ hurricanes to hit Mexico’s Pacific coast if it does not weaken substantially, Rappaport said.

By late Thursday, Kenna was centered about 270 miles southwest of Cabo Corrientes, the tip of land that juts into the Pacific south of the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Kenna was headed to the north at 10 mph, but forecasters said it was expected to veer to the northeast and crash into the coast.

The Hurricane Center forecast said some weakening was expected by Friday evening, but that ``Kenna is expected to be an extremely dangerous hurricane at landfall.″

Mexican troops and civil defense workers began alerting coastal communities late Thursday and preparing for possible evacuations.

Even in areas not directly affected by its winds, Kenna was expected to bring 6 to 10 inches of rain and possible flash floods, as well as storm surge flooding of 6 to 10 feet above normal tide levels and large, battering waves.

In Puerto Vallarta, boat-owners were stripping their yachts and wrapping extra ropes around dock pylons to ensure their vessels wouldn’t be swept away by heavy winds or high waves that could batter the area.

``We’re doing everything possible to make sure the boats are OK,″ said Mike Pearce, a boat salesman who moved here from Vancouver three years ago. ``Sometimes it doesn’t come in but if it does and you haven’t done anything it’s too late.″

Fellow boater Danny Colangelo said many Puerto Vallarta residents have not done enough to prepare for Kenna’s wrath.

``They don’t understand that there’s going to be a lot of wind and a lot of rain,″ said Colangelo, 56, who moved to Puerto Vallarta from San Francisco.

Colangelo said he went from store-to-store looking to buy emergency sandbags but found none for sale. He was forced to fill tarps from his boat with sand and use the makeshift bags to protect his house.

Steady coastal winds that usually blow through Puerto Vallarta subsided Thursday, leaving the air calm even as ominous blue-gray clouds formed off the coast.

``We’ve been here for 10 days and every day the wind’s been blowing and I thought to myself today it’s really quiet. It’s too quiet,″ said Niels Otterloo, a 27-year-old tourist from Holland.

``We don’t have this in Holland,″ he said. ``It’s a little bit exciting but it’s a little bit scary too.″

Leaders of Pacific Rim nations were gathering for a weekend summit in Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula. While forecasters said the storm was veering away from the peninsula, they said people there should continue to monitor it.

Rappaport said other strong hurricanes that have hit the coast included a 1959 storm that struck near Manzanillo, though he said some evidence throws questions on the figure of 160 mph given for its winds. It reportedly killed 1,000 people.

Madeline, a 1976 storm came ashore near Zihuatanejo with winds of 144 mph.

Other deadly eastern Pacific storms of recent years have include Pauline in 1997, which killed at least 230 people along the coast near Acapulco, Ismael in 1995, which killed more than 90 in the Gulf of California, and Liza in 1976, which killed an estimated 435 near the tip of the Baja California Peninsula.

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