15,000 tourists evacuated in advance of Hurricane Patricia

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NEW: Patricia makes landfall south of Puerto Vallarta

15,000 tourists evacuated, Mexican official says

Some guests riding out the storm in hotel shelters

CNN —  

Travelers visiting Puerto Vallarta and other vacation spots on Mexico’s Pacific coast evacuated or sought shelter Friday before Hurricane Patricia – the strongest hurricane ever recorded – made landfall.

About 15,000 foreign and domestic tourists were moved to shelters in Jalisco state, said Jose Maria Tapia, director general of the National Disaster Prevention Center. The storm made landfall about 7:15 p.m., Mexico’s National Water Commission said in a tweet.

One of the American tourists to hunker down in Puerto Vallarta was Brad Powles, who was vacationing with his partner of six years at the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit.

They received a stark warning from hotel management about what to expect during the storm: “Once in the shelter you are not anymore considered a guest. … (S)ervices will be very basic,” the hotel’s note reads in part.

Guests prepare for the hurricane at the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit hotel.

He went to the hotel shelter on the first floor and tweeted some of his experiences, saying the doors were locked and barred, which was unnerving but necessary. Later the hotel staff served dinner. He was inside the shelter when news came that the storm hit land south of Puerto Vallarta.

“Morale has improved in the shelter and not just because of dinner. Word is that #Patricia hit further south than expected…,” he tweeted.

Earlier he noted how the hotel prepared for the hurricane, tweeting “And the hotel has thrown all the beach chairs into the pools to prevent them from blowing into us. #Patricia”

Powles said he was nervous but is trying to stay upbeat and keep his parents back home from worrying. “Thank god for Wi-Fi,” he said.

Other hotel guests were evacuated from Puerto Vallarta to inland locations.

CNN iReporter Louisa Valentin arrived in Mexico with her boyfriend on Wednesday to attend a Thursday wedding. On Friday, they were evacuated to Instituto Tepeyac Campus, a local school.

“We were instructed to only bring one small bag,” she told CNN. “The rest of our belongings we were told to leave inside our room in the closed bathroom area.”

They didn’t go hungry. Resort workers delivered lunch and snack items to the school, she said.

American Amera Bessa told CNN the storm caught her by surprise.

She was going out for dinner Thursday night when she learned the storm had become a Category 5 Hurricane, she said. On Friday morning, she and other guests rushed to the market for supplies.

Later Friday, hotel managers summoned all the guests to the lobby and said they’d be evacuated to a nearby building considered safe because it was made of concrete, she said. Pool chairs were brought inside for people to sleep on and pillows and blankets were distributed, she said.

Some sections of the building were air-conditioned but other parts were very uncomfortable. “It was very claustrophobic because it was all boarded up,” she said.

Jonathan Lake told CNN that he planned to ride out the storm in Puerto Vallarta, partly to watch his property and also to assist in the cleanup. The normally busy streets were empty, he said.

“It’s like a ghost town,” he said.

On Thursday, the Four Seasons Punta Mita transported guests to Guadalajara.

Hotel officials were preparing an underground shelter for staff and guests who are staying because they couldn’t get a flight out, had nowhere to seek refuge or faced traffic jams that made it too difficult to find safety.

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Around midday Friday, “we will start moving remaining guests and staff into designated shelter,” said Thomas Citterio, director of marketing at the Punta Mita.

At the Bay View Grand Condo, guest Mark Sullivan snapped a photo of his view of boarded windows. He was evacuating to Guadalajara.

At the Comfort Inn in Puerto Vallarta, 200 guests are hunkering down in a designated safe room.

Hotel officials have boarded up windows and are communicating with authorities should they need to evacuate, said Samuel Ruic, the front desk manager.

Hotels have reached out to upcoming guests to postpone travel plans.

All flights to and from Puerto Vallarta’s airport were suspended ahead of the storm, Federal Police tweeted.

Some visitors were lucky enough to get on the last flights out.

Twitter user @MyEverLights was pleased to get a seat. “Flight is here! Only flight today. Feeling very lucky to be on it. Praying for everyone still here #Patricia,” the post reads.

U.S. airlines are waiving change fees for flights in and out of the region over the next several days. Alaska Airlines canceled its 10 Friday flights to and from Puerto Vallarta.

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CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.