Mazatlan, Mexico: Hurricane Willa slammed into Mexico's Pacific coastline on Tuesday evening packing winds of 120 mph (195 kph), buffeting buildings and dumping torrential rain on tourist resorts where thousands of people had moved to safety.
Whipping palm trees, bending power lines and sparking floods, the center of Willa struck the coast near the town of Isla del Bosque in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, where many coastal areas had been evacuated before the storm hit.
Willa, a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale was one of the most powerful hurricanes to enter Mexico from the Pacific in recent years. It was due to weaken fast as it moved inland, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
"It was really strong," said Jose Garcia, 60, a resident of the town of Escuinapa, near where the storm ploughed inland. "People were very alarmed."
Speaking by telephone, Garcia said he had hunkered down with others in a hotel waiting for the storm to pass through the town, listening to Willa rattle buildings as it drove onwards.
The storm veered into Mexico about 50 miles (80 km) south of Mazatlan, a major city and popular tourist resort in Sinaloa. Willa had reached rare Category 5 status on Monday with winds near 160 mph (260 kph) before it weakened.
Roads near Mazatlan's historic city center were nearly deserted as rains grew stronger, bending palm trees. The city's main convention center, designated a shelter, filled with 182 people looking for safety.
"My house is made of sheet metal, wood and cardboard, and I'm scared it will fall on top of me," said Rosa Maria Carrillo, 36, at the shelter with her five children, aged 8 to 15. "Hopefully this is just a bit of water, nothing more."
Several other tourist getaways in the state of Nayarit as well as the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state were close to Willa's path, which was forecast to bring a life-threatening storm surge of ocean water, wind and rainfall.
Up to 18 inches (45 cm) of rainfall could pummel parts of the storm zone, the Miami-based hurricane center said.
Even buildings up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) distant from the coastline could lose power and suffer physical damage, Mexico's National Meteorological Service said.