Hurricane Otis weakens to Category 4 storm while heaving rains, flash floods batter southern Mexico

ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Otis slammed into Mexico’s southern Pacific coast as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane early Wednesday, bringing dangerous winds and heavy rain to Acapulco and surrounding towns, stirring memories of a 1997 storm that killed dozens of people.

Now a Category 4 storm, the hurricane was expected to continue to weaken quickly in Guerrero state’s steep mountains. But the five to 10 inches of rain forecast, with as much as 15 inches possible in some areas, raised the threat of landslides and floods.

Otis was about 25 miles north northwest of Acapulco with its maximum sustained winds decreasing to 130 mph (215 km/h) and moving at 10 mph (17 km/h). The center of Otis is expected to move farther inland over southern Mexico through Wednesday night.

Otis had strengthened rapidly, going from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in 12 hours Tuesday. Residents of Guerrero’s coast scrambled to prepare, but the storm’s sudden intensity appeared to catch many off guard.

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Tourists swim in Acapulco, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Hurricane Otis has strengthened from tropical storm to a major hurricane in a matter of hours as it approaches Mexico's southern Pacific coast where it was forecast to make landfall near the resort of Acapulco early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bernardino Hernandez)Hurricane Otis now a catastrophic Category 5 storm off Mexico’s Pacific coast nearing AcapulcoStrong waves caused by hurricane Norma hits a beach in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Norma had weakened and was downgraded to Category 1 on the hurricane wind scale. It was located 25 miles west of Cabo San Lucas storm with winds of 85 mph (140 kmh) and expected to make landfall on Saturday, according to the U.S. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)Norma downgraded to a tropical storm in Mexico as Hurricane Tammy leaves BarbudaThis satellite image provided by NOAA on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, shows Hurricane Storm Norma approaching the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula on Mexico's Pacific coast. (NOAA via AP)Hurricane Norma makes landfall near Mexico’s Los Cabos and Tammy hits tiny Barbuda in the Caribbean

“We’re on maximum alert,” Acapulco Mayor Abelina López said Tuesday night as she urged residents to hunker down at home or move to the city’s shelters.

Otis is stronger than Hurricane Pauline that hit Acapulco in 1997, López said. Pauline destroyed swaths of the city and killed more than 200 people. Hundreds of others were injured in flooding and mudslides.

Between the internationally known resorts of Acapulco and Zihuatanejo are two dozen small towns and villages perched between the mountains and the ocean.

Otis’ arrival came just days after Hurricane Norma struck the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula to the north.

Acapulco is a city of more than 1 million people at the foot of steep mountains. Luxury homes and slums alike cover the city’s hillsides with views of the glistening Pacific.

Guerrero is one of Mexico’s most impoverished and violent states. Just Monday, a local police chief and 12 police officers were massacred and found on a highway in El Papayo, which is in the Guerrero township of Coyuca de Benitez not far from Otis’ impact zone.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Tammy continued moving northeastward over open water with winds of 85 mph (140 kph) after sweeping through the Lesser Antilles over the weekend. Tammy was located about 570 miles (915 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda. The storm was expected to become a powerful extratropical cyclone by Thursday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

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María Verza reported from Mexico City.