MEXICO CITY — Hurricane Willa weakened to a tropical depression on Wednesday after making landfall in west-central Mexico, hours after officials evacuated thousands of coastal residents.
Early Wednesday the storm, whose winds had been reaching 120 miles per hour, lost much of its power, according to the United States National Hurricane Center. The center said that the storm, with maximum sustained winds of 35 m.p.h., was expected to continue moving inland and dissipate later in the day.
Before dawn on Wednesday the storm had inched to about 75 miles east-northeast of Durango, Mexico. As a hurricane it had already weakened to Category 3 before it made landfall Tuesday night in Sinaloa State, approximately 60 miles south of Mazatlán, a resort city of nearly 500,000.
Before Willa’s weakened, the federal authorities in Mexico had issued an “extraordinary emergency” decree for at least 19 municipalities along the Pacific Coast.
Antonio Echeverría, the governor of Nayarit State, said 12,000 people had been evacuated in his state alone.
The hurricane center forecast on Wednesday that storm surge levels in the states of Nayarit and Sinaloa would gradually subside, but it warned that heavy rain could still cause “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.”
Before reaching the coast, the storm hit Islas Marías, a group of offshore islands holding a penal colony and a nature reserve. There were no immediate reports of deaths or damage.
Up and down the coast, residents placed wood panels over their windows or stretched tape over the glass.
In Puerto Vallarta, in the coastal state of Jalisco to the south, high waves crashed onto the city’s landmark boulevard, which was closed as the storm neared. In Nayarit, hotels were turned into shelters, with food and blankets provided to evacuated residents.
At the beachfront Hotel Playa Mazatlán, guests were asked to wait out the storm in the hotel’s theater. “The sea is choppy,” Ramón Lizárraga, a receptionist, said on Tuesday evening. “The wind hasn’t started yet, it’s raining normally.”
Twelve people died this week in flooding and landslides caused by Tropical Storm Vicente in the impoverished southwestern state of Oaxaca.