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Hurricane Hilary threatens ‘catastrophic’ flooding in Mexico and California, now in a state of emergency

Hurricane Hilary roared toward Mexico's Baja California peninsula late Saturday as a Category 2 hurricane that's likely to bring "catastrophic" flooding and cross into the southwest U.S. as a tropical storm. One person drowned in a Mexican town when their vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream and California has declared a state of emergency.

Hilary expected to become 1st tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years

A satellite image of a storm approaching Mexico's Pacific coast.

Hurricane Hilary roared toward Mexico's Baja California peninsula late Saturday as a downgraded but still dangerous Category 2 hurricane that's likely to bring "catastrophic" flooding to the region and cross into the southwestern U.S. as a tropical storm.

One person drowned Saturday in Mexico's town of Santa Rosalia, along the peninsula's eastern coast, when their vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream. Rescue workers managed to rescue four other people, according to Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of Mulege township.

While it was not immediately clear whether officials consider the fatality to be related to the hurricane, footage posted by local officials showed torrents of water coursing through the town's streets.

Hilary is likely to be the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years. It weakened from a major Category 3 hurricane to a Category 2 storm at midday, and is expected to lose strength further as it treks northward.

Despite Hilary's downgraded status, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency Saturday, and officials urged people to finish their preparations by sundown.

"This does not lessen the threat, especially the flood threat," said Jamie Rhome, the U.S. National Hurricane Center's deputy director, during a briefing to announce the storm's downgraded status. "Don't let the weakening trend and the intensity lower your guard."

Forecasters said the storm could bring heavy rainfall to the southwestern United States, dumping eight to 15 centimetres in places, with isolated amounts of up to 25 centimetres, in portions of Southern California and southern Nevada. Meteorologists also expect Hilary to churn up "life-threatening" surf conditions and rip currents — including waves up to 12 metres high — along Mexico's Pacific coast.

Officials issued an evacuation advisory for the tourist destination of Santa Catalina Island, 37 kilometres off the Southern California coast, while authorities in Los Angeles scrambled to get those experiencing homelessness off the streets and into shelters.

Southern California warnings

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued tropical storm and potential flood warnings for Southern California from the Pacific coast to interior mountains and deserts. The San Bernardino County sheriff on Saturday issued evacuation warnings for several mountain and foothill communities ahead of the storm.

Courtney Carpenter, a U.S. National Weather Service warning co-ordination meteorologist, said experts forecast flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes and wind damage to Southern California.

Heavy rainfall and strong winds already were setting in on Saturday, with power outages expected.

Members of the Mexican Navy patrol a beach before the arrival of a hurricane Hilary.

On Friday, Hilary had rapidly strengthened, becoming an exceedingly dangerous Category 4 Major hurricane for a time with top sustained winds of 230 km/h at its peak. Its maximum sustained winds initially dropped to 185 km/h on Saturday as a Category 3 storm, before further weakening to 177 km/h — making it a Category 2.

Expected to continue northward

It was still 1,030 kilometres south-southeast of San Diego. It was moving north-northwest at 27 km/h, and was expected to turn more toward the north and pick up speed.

Restaurant employees put protective wood planks on the window of a restaurant near the beach before the arrival of a hurricane.

Forecasts said the storm was swirling off one of the westernmost spurs on Mexico's southern Baja peninsula. The hurricane was expected to brush past Punta Eugenia on that coast before making landfall along a sparsely populated area of the peninsula, about 330 kilometres south of the Pacific port city of Ensenada.

Hilary is then expected to rake northward up the peninsula, threatening heavy rains and dangerous flooding in the border city of Tijuana, where many homes in the city of 1.9 million cling precariously to steep hillsides. The city ordered all beaches closed Saturday, and set up a half-dozen storm shelters at sports complexes and government offices.

Rafael Carrillo, head of the Tijuana fire department, voiced the fear that was at the back of everyone's mind in Tijuana, particularly residents of the poorly built hillside homes.

"If you hear noises, or the ground cracking, it is important for you to check it and get out as fast as possible, because the ground can weaken and your home could collapse," Carrillo said.

Getting homeless people into shelters

The U.S. National Park Service closed Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve to keep people from becoming stranded amid flooding. Cities across the region, including in Arizona, were offering sandbags to safeguard properties against floodwaters.

Workers lay down a large sheet of plastic on a hill as they prepare for heavy rain and possible landslides.

Major League Baseball rescheduled three Sunday games in Southern California, moving them to Saturday as part of split doubleheaders.

SpaceX delayed the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket from a base on California's central coast until at least Monday. The company said conditions in the Pacific could make it difficult for a ship to recover the rocket booster.

Biden urges everyone to take precautions

U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had pre-positioned staff and supplies in the region.

He urged "everyone in the path of this storm, to take precautions and listen to the guidance of state and local officials."

Officials in Southern California were reinforcing sand berms, built to protect low-lying coastal communities against winter surf, like in Huntington Beach, which dubs itself Surf City USA.

In nearby Newport Beach, Tanner Atkinson waited in a line of vehicles for free sandbags at a city distribution point.

"A lot of people here are excited because the waves are gonna get pretty heavy," Atkinson said. "But I mean, it's gonna be some rain, so usually there's some flooding and the landslides and things like that."

Mexico's navy evacuated 850 people from islands off the Baja coast, and deployed almost 3,000 troops for emergency operations.

About 100 people sought refuge at storm shelters in the twin resorts of Los Cabos, at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, and firefighters used an inflatable boat to rescue a family in San Jose del Cabo after the resort was hit by driving rain and wind.

In La Paz, the picturesque capital of Baja California Sur state on the Sea of Cortez, police patrolled closed beaches to keep swimmers out of the whipped-up surf.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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