New Zealanders have been warned to keep in touch with home and heed the advice of local authorities in Mexico as one of the strongest hurricanes recorded hits popular tourist areas.
Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 hurricane with sustained 322 km/h winds capable of lifting cars, destroying homes and creating 12-metre waves, is expected to maintain its intensity after it made landfall in southwestern Mexico on Friday afternoon (today NZT).
It has the potential to cause death and destruction over a large swath of the nation, including favourite tourist spots for Australian travellers including Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Acapulco.
"The country is bracing for and expecting the worst," says Mexico City-based New Zealander Tamaha Macdonald.
Ms Macdonald has lost contact with family members, who have been moved to higher ground.
"We don't know what's happening with them. We've been following events on the TV on the news. It's escalated quite a lot. The situation is becoming quite dangerous. Everyone's very concerned about what's happening."
A 50,000-strong force has been mobilised; airports have been closed; electricity has been intentionally cut off; shops, homes and businesses have been boarded up. A state of emergency has been declared in dozens of areas.
"They are very concerned there will be casualties and the most devastation that any of these types of hurricanes or storms have had here in Mexico," says Ms Macdonald.
The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday warned New Zealanders in Mexico to be aware that Patricia is expected to make landfall on the Pacific coast of Mexico in Jalisco, between Cabo Corrientes and Punta San Telmo.
"We advise New Zealanders in Mexico to follow the advice of the local authorities at all times, including any evacuation orders, and seek suitable shelter."
Visitors and tourists staying in travel accommodation should follow the guidance of hotel management.
They should stay indoors and well away from the sea and keep family at home informed.
"We recommend you stay informed of developments by monitoring local news and weather reports and register your details with us."
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also warned on its Smart Traveller website yesterday that Australians should exercise a high degree of caution in Mexico.
Mexican authorities have begun evacuating residents.
The storm is comparable to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 6300 people in the Philippines in 2013, the World Meteorological Organisation says.
A state of emergency has been declared in three states in Patricia's path.
Record-breaking Hurricane Patricia has crashed into Mexico's Pacific coast, uprooting trees and dumping heavy rain.
Hurricane Patricia has caused less damage than feared so far after making landfall on Mexico's Pacific coast, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says, warning that the storm still poses a threat.
In a televised message to the nation almost five hours after Patricia crashed ashore in western Jalisco state, Pena Nieto urged Mexicans to remain on alert.
"With the information available up to now and taking into account that the [weather] phenomenon is ongoing, the first reports confirm that the damages have been smaller than those corresponding to a hurricane of this magnitude," he said on Friday (local time).
"However, it's important for the population to remain in shelters," Pena Nieto added. "We can't let our guard down yet. I insist, the most dangerous part of the hurricane has yet to enter the national territory."
The president warned that Patricia will dump heavy rain on the Pacific coast as well as central and northeastern states.
Authorities relocated coastal residents, evacuated tourists from beach hotels and closed sea ports, airports and schools in several states before the category five hurricane made landfall in the western state of Jalisco on Friday (local time).
The hurricane crashed ashore in the town of Emiliano Zapata, about 95 kilometres west of the major port of Manzanillo, National Water Commission director Roberto Ramirez told Milenio television.
The US National Hurricane Center said Patricia weakened marginally at landfall at 2315 GMT, with maximum winds of 270km/h that came down to 260km/h as it moved inland.
Patricia peaked at 325km/h several hours earlier - more powerful than the 315km/h winds of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7350 dead or missing when it struck the Philippines in November 2013.
Rain and wind lashed the coast hours after Patricia mushroomed late on Thursday into a category five storm - the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale.
"We are facing a natural phenomenon, a force we have never seen before" in the world, President Enrique Pena Nieto told Radio Formula earlier in the day.
"We will face difficult moments."
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In the state of Colima, where Manzanillo lies, about 350 trees were ripped from the ground "but fortunately there is only material damage," Agriculture Minister Jose Calzada told Milenio television.
Stores shut down in the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, farther north of where Patricia made landfall, and shop owners attached duct tape to their windows for protection.
About 7000 foreign and 21,000 Mexican tourists were in Puerto Vallarta ahead of the storm.
Seafront hotels were evacuated and tourists were rushed to shelters, the airport and bus stations.
US President Barack Obama said US disaster aid experts were on the ground and primed to help.
Authorities shut down power along the coasts of Jalisco and Colima states to prevent electrocutions.
Jose Maria Tapia Franco, director of the National Disaster Fund, said 400,000 people live in vulnerable areas. Hundreds of shelters were made available.
3 News / NZN / AFP