Mexico warned the western state of Baja California on Saturday to brace for what could be life-threatening rain and floods from Hurricane Hilary, the Pacific storm barreling toward the peninsula and neighboring Southern California.
State and federal authorities urged citizens to take precautions ahead of the storm, which was expected to make landfall early Sunday. Although Hilary weakened somewhat on Saturday, officials warned it remained lethally destructive.
More than 6,500 soldiers were deployed Friday to the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur to help erect shelters, organize food banks and prepare for possible emergency rescues.
Libia González, a meteorologist with Mexico’s national forecasting service, said that the storm would gradually decrease in strength and was expected to become a Category 1 by Sunday morning.
“But this does not mean that the danger will diminish,” she said. “It will continue to be a hurricane,” causing very strong winds and large swells of up to 32 feet.
“What we want to convey to the public is not to lower their guard,” she added.
Most locals heeded the warnings, but some remained skeptical of how big an impact the hurricane could have. Historically, the region has largely dealt with mild storms, including some that officials initially warned could be catastrophic.
“We are so used to being warned and nothing happens,” said Andrés García, 35, a valet at a hotel in the port city of Ensenada. “That is why people are calm. Hopefully it won’t be so destructive.”
Revelers gathered in the tourist town’s noisy bars and tried to enjoy the overcast day before the storm’s arrival.
Hilary arrived just as the annual grape harvest festival in Ensenada was concluding this weekend. Organizers have officially postponed the final events and tourism operators were advising visitors to leave.
Mexico’s national meteorological service said on Saturday morning that torrential rains were expected across the Baja California peninsula and other northern states. Hilary threatened to dump up to six inches of rain in the area through Sunday night, as well as bring strong winds, flash flooding and large swells “likely to cause life-threatening surf,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
Of special concern were the rocky island of Cedros, off the west coast of Baja California, and San Quintín, an agricultural center for the region that has emerged as a tourist destination.
“What gives us peace of mind is that the community is a nest,” said Raquel Arce, 40, a native of Cedros, which is home to about 3,000 people. “There is no one who won’t lend a hand, no one who won’t support you, during a situation like this.”
But in a sign of the Cedros community’s collective worry about possible food shortages, virtually all of the tortillas on the island were purchased and its tortilleria closed, Ms. Arce said. Canned tuna also disappeared from shelves.
Ms. Arce and her family stocked up on supplies, gathered buckets in case water found its way inside their house and covered their large windows with plywood.
“We can already feel the change,” she said. Rain had been pouring down since the early morning on Saturday and the waves, which she could see from her house, were hitting the island nonstop.
“It has been many years since there was an alert like this,” Ms. Arce said, adding she has never witnessed a storm such as Hilary. “Hopefully it will be mild. It’s a little nerve-racking maybe, but not scary.”
On Saturday morning, drizzle and power outages were reported in several parts of Baja California, and authorities issued an alert of a landslide blocking the highway that connects three of the state’s most important cities, Tijuana, Tecate and Mexicali.
In Tijuana, 150 couples had gathered to exchange wedding vows on the boardwalk despite the announcement of Hilary’s arrival in just a few hours.
Miroslava Miramontes, 52, said that she and her fiancé had been planning their wedding for weeks.
“We are from here, from Tijuana, and that’s why we know that hurricanes don’t hit hard,” she said. “It’s just a little rain, but we don’t think we have to prepare.”