Hurricane Hilary made its way toward Mexico’s Baja California peninsula early Sunday as a weakened but still dangerous Category 1 hurricane. It will likely bring “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding to the region and move into the U.S. Southwest as a tropical storm, the National Weather Service said.
The National Weather Center in Miami said in the most recent report at 12 noon that the maximum sustained wind speed was 85 mph, down from 90 mph hours earlier.
The storm struck about 90 miles south of Punta Eugenia, Mexico and 450 miles from San Diego, California.
Meteorologists warned that despite weakening, the storm remained treacherous.
On Saturday, one person drowned when a vehicle was swept away by an overflowing creek in the Mexican city of Santa Rosalia on the peninsula’s east coast.
Rescuers managed to save four more people, said Edith Aguilar Villavicencio, the mayor of the municipality of Mulege.
It wasn’t immediately clear if officials linked the death to the hurricane, but videos released by local officials showed streams of water flowing down the city’s streets.
Forecasters said the storm would continue to go down in history as the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, bringing flash flooding, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power outages.
The prediction prompted authorities to issue an evacuation alert for Santa Catalina Island, urging local residents and beachgoers to evacuate the tourist destination 23 miles offshore.
Elizabeth Adams, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s San Diego office, said rain could reach up to 3 inches per hour from late Sunday morning into the afternoon over Southern California’s mountains and deserts.
The heavy rains during these hours could cause widespread and life-threatening flash floods.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and officials had urged people to complete their preparations before sundown on Saturday.
An expert said it would be too late by Sunday.
The hurricane is the latest major climate disaster to wreak havoc across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Hawaii’s island of Maui is still reeling from last week’s fire that killed over 100 people and devastated the historic town of Lahaina. It was the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century.
Firefighters in Canada continued to battle the blazes Saturday during the country’s worst fire season on record.
Hilary brought heavy rain and flooding to Mexico and the U.S. Southwest on Saturday before the storm crossed the border on Sunday.
Forecasters warned there could be as much as 10 inches of rain in southern California and southern Nevada — a full year’s rainfall in some areas.
“This does not reduce the threat, particularly the risk of flooding,” said Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the US National Hurricane Center, during a briefing Saturday announcing the storm’s downgrading. “Don’t let the flagging trend and intensity lower your vigilance.”
Meteorologists also expected the storm would whip up “life-threatening” surf and currents with waves up to 40 feet high along Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Dozens of people took refuge in storm shelters at the Los Cabos twin resorts on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, and firefighters rescued a family in San Jose del Cabo after the resort was hit by torrential rain and winds.
In Tijuana, fire chief Rafael Carrillo expressed the fear on everyone’s mind in the border city of 1.9 million, particularly those living in houses on steep hillsides.
“If you hear noises or the ground cracks, it’s important that you check it out and get out of there as soon as possible because the ground can weaken and your house could collapse,” Carrillo said.
Tijuana on Saturday ordered all beaches closed and set up half a dozen storm shelters at sports facilities and government offices.
The Mexican Navy evacuated 850 people from islands off the Baja coast and dispatched nearly 3,000 troops for emergency response.
In La Paz, the scenic capital of Baja California Sur state on the Gulf of California, police patrolled closed beaches to keep swimmers away from the churning surf.