Dangerous Category 4 Hurricane Willa closes in on Mexico coast

This NOAA/RAMMB satellite handout image taken AT 5:30 UTC on October 22, 2018 shows hurricane Willa off Mexico's Pacific coast. (AFP)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Dangerous Category 4 Hurricane Willa closes in on Mexico coast

  • Forecasters said Willa would then blow ashore in the afternoon or evening somewhere along a 140-mile (220-kilometer) stretch extending from the resort town of Mazatlan to San Blas

MEXICO CITY: A potential catastrophic Hurricane Willa swept toward Mexico’s Pacific coast with winds of 145 mph (230 kph) Monday night, threatening a stretch of high-rise resort hotels, surfing beaches and fishing villages.
Farther south, Mexican officials reported 12 deaths related to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Vicente.
After briefly reaching Category 5 strength, Willa’s maximum sustained winds weakened some. But it remained “extremely dangerous” and was forecast to bring “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall” to parts of west-central and southwestern Mexico ahead of an expected Tuesday landfall, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Hotel workers started taping up windows, and officials began evacuating people and shuttered schools in a low-lying landscape where towns sit amid farmland tucked between the sea and lagoons. A decree of “extraordinary emergency” was issued for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states, the federal Interior Department announced.
Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state.
The hurricane was expected to pass over or near the Islas Marias — a set of islands about 60 miles (96 kilometers) offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison — early Tuesday.
Forecasters said Willa would then blow ashore in the afternoon or evening somewhere along a 140-mile (220-kilometer) stretch extending from the resort town of Mazatlan to San Blas.
It was projected to weaken somewhat before hitting land but was still expected to be extremely dangerous.
Yamile Bustamante, assistant general manager at the Crown Plaza de Mazatlan, said hotel executives were not ruling out the possibility of evacuating guests but were awaiting instructions from authorities.
The governments of Sinaloa and Nayarit ordered coastal region schools to close and began preparing emergency shelters.
Enrique Moreno, mayor of Escuinapa, a municipality of about 60,000 people on Willa’s track, said officials were trying to evacuate everybody in the seaside village of Teacapan. He estimated 3,000 were affected but he expected some would try to stay.
“The people don’t want to evacuate, but it’s for their security,” he said.
About 60 miles (100 kilometers) up the coast in Mazatlan, with a metropolitan-area population of about 500,000, Mayor Jose Joel Boucieguez said officials prepared shelters and were closely monitoring low-lying areas. Mazatlan is a popular vacation spot and home to a large number of American and Canadian expatriates.
Late Monday, Willa was centered about 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of the Islas Marias and 195 miles (310 kilometers) south-southwest of Mazatlan. It was moving north at 9 mph (15 kph).
Hurricane-force winds extended 35 miles (55 kilometers) from the storm’s center, and tropical storm-force winds were up to 125 miles (205 kilometers) out.
The US 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 south, Tropical Storm Vicente weakened and was expected to dissipate soon, but it still dropped heavy rainfall that caused dangerous flooding in southern and southwestern Mexico.
Officials in Oaxaca state said seven adults and five children had lost their lives in drownings or mudslides.


Philippine troops killed in ambush by Islamist gunmen

Updated 10 min 28 sec ago
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Philippine troops killed in ambush by Islamist gunmen

  • Philippine military says five soldiers killed and 23 more wounded
  • Abu Sayyaf is now believed to hold less than 10 hostages

MANILA: Militants have killed five Philippine soldiers and wounded 23 others in a major ambush by members of a notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group, the Philippine military said Saturday.
The soldiers were searching for hostages taken by the Abu Sayyaf group when the gunmen attacked them on the southern Philippine island of Jolo on Friday, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana told reporters.
“The effort is part of our mission to rescue the remaining hostages,” Besana said.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose alliance of several hundred armed militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.
Friday’s clash was one of the deadliest since an Abu Sayyaf faction joined other foreign and Filipino militants in seizing the southern Philippine city of Marawi last year, leading to a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,100 lives.
The Abu Sayyaf is now believed to hold “less than 10” hostages, Besana said.
The group is based in the strife-torn southern islands but its members began in 2016 to kidnap sailors in the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The militants have also raided and taken hostages from resorts in the southern Philippines and neighboring Malaysia.
Most of the hostages have been ransomed off for huge amounts of money and several were beheaded, including two Canadian tourists in 2016. A Dutch birdwatcher abducted on a nearby island in 2012 is believed to be among those still in Abu Sayyaf’s hands.
The Dutchman’s Swiss colleague escaped in 2014 after grabbing a kidnapper’s machete and killing him.
The soldiers who survived Friday’s ambush did not see any hostages during the 90-minute clash near the town of Patikul, Besana said.