This report was updated at 9:50 p.m. Eastern time, Oct. 23, 2015.
Travel companies began evacuating clients from Mexico's West Coast and preparing for an onslaught from Hurricane Patricia, categorized by forecasters as the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.
Patricia, a Category 5 storm, was expected to dump up to 20 inches of
rain over the states of Nayarit (Riviera Nayarit), Jalisco (Puerto
Vallarta), Guerrero (Acapulco), Colima (Manzanillo) and Michoacan, which
could produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, according to
the National Hurricane Center.
The storm made landfall at about 7 p.m. Central time about midway between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. A bulletin from the National Weather Service said that the storm was weakening; however, it was estimated to be packing sustained winds of up to 160 mph, with higher gusts.
A statement from the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board said that authorities in Jalisco State installed special operations in the city comprised of federal, state and municipal police and fire and medical personnel.
"The majority of visitors and residents from the Historic Center and the Hotel Zone along Puerto Vallarta's beaches have been evacuated," the statement said.
With the Puerto Vallarta International Airport closed to air traffic until further notice, American Airlines removed all of its aircraft from the airport and is working with the airport to secure equipment, an American spokesperson said. Several carriers have relaxed their change policies for flights headed to destinations in the storm’s path. American, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines and Southwest have all waived change fees for anyone scheduled to travel to or from Puerto Vallarta as well as other cities in the region, with policies varying by carrier.
In Acapulco, tourism authorities are “following protocol, staying in touch with hotels and tour operators to keep everyone informed,” according to a tourist office spokesperson. The hotels have not evacuated guests and the airport remains open.
The hurricane was expected to track north-northeast and weaken and "dissipate" on Saturday. However, the remnants of the storm may pose other hazards. Moisture from Patricia poses high flood risks in Texas and Louisiana, according to AccuWeather Global Weather Central.
Tour companies take action
Mark Travel is keeping close tabs on its hundreds of clients who are currently in the Puerto Vallarta region, said Executive Vice President Ray Snisky, who added that the tour operator is working through its ground handler in the region, Island Sun.
“We know every single one of our customers, where they are,” he said. “Right now it's completely in a mode of safety.”
Pleasant Holidays is moving its clients in Puerto Vallarta to different areas, including shelters and the convention center, according to Jack Richards, president and CEO. Other clients are getting flights out of Guadalajara.
“Our ground handler in Puerto Vallarta is sending updates and we are closely monitoring the situation as it develops,” Richards said.
He later added that Pleasant's customer service team has contacted agents with bookings through Oct. 30 to assist with rebooking or moving clients to another destination in Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii or Tahiti. "All change fees have been waived,” he said.
Both Travel Impressions and Apple Vacations posted online travel advisories urging those planning to travel to the affected area, as well as lists of where hotels are evacuating guests to, and which hotels are sheltering guests.
Journey Mexico CEO Zachary Rabinor lives in Puerto Vallarta and said he had been evacuated from the building he lives in, which is right on the coast. He also said that coast-facing hotels had been evacuated and that public transportation had been stopped.
Although hurricane season is slow for Journey Mexico, Rabinor said the company did have to evacuate several clients from the area affected by the hurricane to Guadalajara.
Classic Vacations’ clients also were being evacuated to Guadalajara, according to Federico Moreno-Nickerson, director of product development for the Caribbean and Mexico. Some had already left the area by flying out before the airport closed, and some were being bussed.
Moreno-Nickerson said that although the company was aiming to have as many clients evacuated as possible, ”communication is already becoming a challenge” and that a quarter of Classic’s clients remained in shelters in areas expected to be affected by the storm.
MLT Vacations brands Delta Vacations and Aeromexico Vacations had “dozens” of clients scheduled to be in the hurricane’s path, according to a statement. “However, a number have opted to leave early or have taken advantage of travel waivers from Delta and Aeromexico for this storm to postpone their vacations," the statement said. "Customers remaining in the destination have been accounted for and are being sheltered in the care of our hotel and destination partners."
Playa Hotels & Resorts, which operates and manages the Hyatt Ziva
Puerto Vallarta, is transporting guests from Puerto Vallarta via coach
to Guadalajara where Playa has arranged accommodations for them.
Playa is updating guests via its reservation sites and social media outlets with information as soon as it is available.
Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess canceled its Friday call in Cabo San Lucas, citing strong swells due to the storm. The ship is headed back to Los Angeles for its scheduled arrival.
No other cruise lines with ships near or on the coast reported any itinerary changes due to the storm, but all say they are monitoring its impact.