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Hurricane Patricia: Flood Threat for Millions But Winds Weaken to Depression

Rescue workers were awaiting daybreak to assess damage from Hurricane Patricia after it hit Mexico, dumping torrential rains that threatened floods.
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After Hurricane Patricia menaced Mexico as one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, officials said early reports showed no major damage Saturday as the once-ferocious system deteriorated into a post-tropical cyclone.

Howling winds had battered trees, flooded streets and ripped down power lines overnight Friday in coastal areas of southwestern Mexico — but the posh tourist resorts, bustling ports and fishing villages dotting the Pacific Coast region appeared largely unscathed as the storm soaked mostly sparsely populated stretches.

Rescue workers were still assessing the damage from the record-setting hurricane, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted Saturday afternoon that "so far, there are no reports of major damage" from the storm.

Patricia, once a Category 5 storm packing 200 mph winds, had rapidly weakened to a tropical storm by 7 a.m. ET, and then into a tropical depression by 11 a.m. as it broke over mountainous areas.

By 4 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET), it was downgraded to a remnant low pressure system about 45 miles southwest on Monterrey, Mexico and was moving northeast at 20 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

"We were fortunate as to where it made landfall. It was not a densely populated area," Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the hurricane center, told The Associated Press.

He said the lack of fatalities was probably the result of the storm's narrow footprint. Category 5 winds extended 15 miles out on either side of the eye, and hurricane-force winds extended for 35 miles from the center of the storm.

Related: Texas Hit With Heavy Rains, 10M Under Flood Watch

Millions were in the path of Patricia, which the National Hurricane Center said was centered about 95 miles northeast of Zacatecas at 11 a.m. The storm's sustained winds were at just 35 mph, down from the measured wind speeds of more than 200 mph before making landfall — making Patricia the strongest storm ever recorded.

The storm barreled over land late Friday, and local television pictures showed cars and buses being swept by floodwaters in the state of Jalisco amid maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.

Overnight Friday, Nieto warned the nation in a televised address: "We still can't lower our guard.”

However, the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and port city of Manzanillo appeared to have escaped major damage. Mexico police tweeted Saturday morning that operations have resumed at the airports in Puerto Vallarta and the inland capital city of Guadalajara.

Diana Park-Alford, an American tourist visiting Puerto Vallarta, told TODAY on Saturday morning that she was allowed back in her hotel by 9:30 p.m. Friday after evacuating earlier in the day.

"We expected the worst," she said. "The damage was very minimal, very surprisingly. We felt very blessed."

Another tourist, Brandie Galle, of Grants Pass, Oregon, told The Associated Press that she had been sheltered with other guests in a ballroom with boarded-up windows at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

“Everyone is starting to perk up a little bit but still kind of on edge waiting to see what's going to happen with the storm,” she said.

When the city was not feeling any major effects from the storm two hours after landfall, workers let them out to eat at a hotel restaurant. "They said it looked like the storm had hit below us," she said.

Galle said some guests desperate to leave had earlier paid $400 for taxis to drive them the 120 miles to Guadalajara because airports in Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Tepic were closed Friday.

Patricia was a Category 5 and had 165 mph winds when it made landfall near Cuixmala, west-northwest of Manzanillo, at 6:15 p.m. local time (7:15 p.m. ET). Palm trees bent and rain whipped in sideways as the storm made its first appearance on land.

"The winds are really strong. It's amazing, even the cars are moving," Laura Barajas, a 30-year-old hotel worker from the major cargo port of Manzanillo near where the storm hit, told Reuters.

Jalisco Gov. Aristóteles Sandoval said late Friday that 6,333 people were in shelters.

A strong storm surge, accompanied by massive waves, near the coast could intensify the flooding. The Mexican national water commission, CONAGUA, said waves could swell to up to 40 feet.

Patricia quickly grew in intensity Thursday, and on Friday data from Air Force planes measured the major wind speeds of over 200 mph. At that point, the World Meteorological Organization compared the storm to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013.

The storm weakened as it made landfall, but it was still the strongest to ever hit Mexico's west coast. Patricia is the third strongest storm in Mexico's history, said NBC meteorologist Bill Karins.

The U.S. Department of State called the storm "extraordinarily dangerous" and urged the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visiting or living in the hurricane warning area to avoid the coast and heed all evacuation warnings.

The threat of Patricia wasn't over yet, and remnants were expected to travel north and feed into existing rain hitting southern Texas.

"There's an area of low pressure that'll be forming along the Texas coast, and that will be about the time that moisture from Patricia will be arriving," Feltgen said. The wet weather was forecast to spread from Texas to the central Gulf coast by early next week.