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Hurricane Jova Strengthens, Churns Toward Mexico's Pacific Coast

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PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — Hurricane Jova strengthened to a major, Category 3 hurricane Monday as it churned toward Mexico's Pacific coast, threatening the idyllic beach resort of Barra de Navidad and one of the nation's biggest cargo ports.

Jova's maximum sustained winds slowed a bit to near 120 mph (205 kph) late Monday, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said there could be further flucations in the coming hours. But the center said Jova was expected to be a major hurricane as its center neared the coastline Tuesday afternoon or evening.

The forecast track would carry its center near Barra de Navidad, south of the larger resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Hotels in the hurricane's path were already taking precautions, though the sun continued to shine from time to time. Almost all the guests at the 199-room Grand Bay Hotel on Isla Navidad, just off the coast, were scheduled to check out Monday, and only one American couple planned to ride out the storm, hotel desk clerk Julio Cesar Ortega said.

Hotel employees taped up windows, cleaned out water channels to avoid flooding and pulled in all beach furniture. The hotel's approximately 90 employees plan to take shelter in an interior ballroom if things get ugly.

The Mexican government declared a hurricane warning for a 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of coast from just south of Puerto Vallarta to a point south of Manzanillo, one of Mexico's chief cargo ports. A tropical storm warning was in effect farther south, to the port of Lazaro Cardenas.

In Puerto Vallarta, rain began to fall Monday, and passing buses splashed curtains of water as they passed.

Rafael Colmenares stood on a porch at the shore, watching the ocean with a beer in his hand. The 49-year-old waiter's house was flooded when Category 4 Hurricane Kenna struck the coast farther north in 2002, killing four people.

But Colmenares said he hadn't bought any emergency supplies or water.

"You never know with these waves," he said, adding: "But what can you do about nature?"

Ignacio Curiel, a 55-year-old fisherman, said he was stocking up with food and water.

"After Kenna, we feel a little frightened. The sea came upon us," he said. "You know what we did? We closed the doors, climbed to our rooftop and watched the waves."

Curiel said if Jova strengthened even more, he would leave to seek shelter with relatives on higher ground.

"A higher category, and you know what? We'll run," Curiel said.

Some foreign residents of the coast were thinking of riding out the hurricane.

"You got to go a long ways inland probably to get away from it, up over the mountains ... so we're staying here, and hope for the best," said Bernie Horvadh, 66, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, who owns a small hotel.

Since moving to the Barra de Navidad area five years ago, Horvadh has never experienced a direct hit from a hurricane, much less one of Jova's power.

"I'm not shaking in my boots, but I haven't been in one of these either," he said, adding that he expected to ride out the storm in the three-story rental bungalows that he built two years ago and dubbed "Bernie's Place."

"Nothing of mine is going to blow over," he said, noting he had designed an open floor plan that should present less wind resistance or glass to shatter. "Normally it's a nice breeze, but what, a 125 mph wind, you know, not good."

His wife, Angelita Campusano, thought some neighbors in more precarious homes might be in danger. "The people here who have palapa-style houses made of sticks and sheet roofing, they might need to evacuate."

Authorities closed the port of Manzanillo, the country's second largest port for non-oil cargo, the port captain's office announced.

Jova was located about 155 miles (255 kilometers) southwest of Manzanillo and was moving northeast at about 7 mph (11 kph). Its path was predicted to take a more northerly course Tuesday.

The mountainous terrain inland usually weakens hurricanes like Jova fairly quickly once they hit land, but "maybe coastal flooding will be an issue," said Felix Garcia, a forecaster at the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

"The rainfall will be absolutely torrential," Garcia said.

There were perhaps a couple of hundred tourists left in Barra de Navidad and the nearby beach town of Melaque, said Armando Martinez, an employee of the civil defense department of Cihuatlan, the township that includes both towns.

Martinez said officials were preparing six local schools and meeting halls to serve as storm shelters, and local fishermen had been prohibited from going to sea. He said flooding is a problem during storms in Melaque.

In 1959, an unnamed hurricane struck near Manzanillo, reportedly killing 1,000 people. Detailed reports on hurricanes were not available at the time.

Colima state, where Manzanillo is located, has contingency plans to open 15 to 20 shelters as needed statewide, but had not yet opened any or ordered any evacuations, said Ricardo Ursua, the state civil defense director of operations.

Remnants of Hurricane Jova were projected to pass across the Guadalajara area but to be dissipating by the time the Jalisco state capital inaugurates the Pan American Games on Friday. Puerto Vallarta is scheduled to host two events, open-water swimming and the triathlon, about a week later.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Irwin was weakening slightly farther out in the Pacific with winds near 40 mph (65 kph). While it was expected to move eastward toward land, it was not immediately clear if it would eventually reach the coast.


Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.

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