For Heather Vaughan, a guest in the Four Seasons hotel and resort in Punta Mita, Mexico, there will be no evacuation in preparation for Hurricane Patricia. The Category 5 hurricane swiftly and dangerously was transformed from a tropical storm barreling towards the country’s Pacific coast with winds reaching 200 miles per hour.
Vaughan was on vacation from Raleigh, North Carolina, and unaware of the incoming hurricane until Thursday; she was being sequestered with nearly 500 of her fellow hotel guests in a secured room to wait out the worst of the storm. The tourists and hotel staff can't be flown out of the area because the nearest airport is shut down, and they couldn't be driven inland for fear of running into mudslides, she said.
"We’re OK, but God knows, what do you do? We’ll see what happens," Vaughan said. "This morning, people were very scared."
Cruise lines canceled ships, and resorts in southwest Mexico boarded up windows, raised barriers and reassured their guests Friday afternoon in preparation for the storm, thought to be the strongest hurricane ever recorded by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The chaos has prompted resorts in the Puerto Vallarta area to take a variety of emergency responses, many sending their guests to inland shelters, others allowing people to stay by choice. Some, like Vaughan, found themselves with no other option but to stay put.
— Heather Vaughan (@Hvaugha1) October 23, 2015
Vaughan, who has a small child back in Raleigh, said she was able to call home last night and make arrangements in case the worst should happen. After having been on vacation at the resort since last Saturday, she first learned of the storm through fellow guests. But no one seemed concerned until calls from hotel staff started coming in overnight about potential evacuation plans that would ultimately fail.
"They said, 'Oh it's nothing, it's nothing. We don’t ever really get hit here.' But I had them look at the map, and then they said, 'Oh OK, we’re gonna get some serious storms,'" said Vaughan.
Most guests at the Sunset Plaza Beach Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta, about 29 miles southeast of Vaughan's hotel, were sent to an inland convention center, but resort manager Javier Vergara said about 60 guests chose to remain behind because they deemed the area low risk for damage.
By early Friday afternoon, there wasn't even any wind, Vergara said, so guests were mostly in good spirits when they boarded the motor coaches taking them inland. The resort has rehearsed emergency responses before, so it was a matter of simply following procedure throughout the day.
"My main priority is to transmit calmness to our guests," he said.
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) October 23, 2015
The Playa Los Arcos Hotel Beach Resort and Spa, also in Puerto Vallarta, was 90 percent booked when it was forced to evacuate and put up barriers along the building's oceanside facade. Concierge Magdalena Gomez said the rain hasn't yet begun, but some of the guests seemed rattled when they departed for shelters this morning.
"You never know in these cases what to expect," she said. "Up to now, everything seems to be normal -- just a cloudy day."
Gomez said guests who had canceled reservations ahead of the storm received full refunds, but the resort hasn't complained about the loss of business yet.
"At this point, safety first," she said.
The first and only Category 5 hurricane known to hit Mexico's Pacific coast struck Puerto Vallarta in late October 1959, leading to approximately 1,800 deaths. With that in mind, Princess Cruises, too, opted for safety Friday afternoon. The cruise line confirmed one of its ships canceled a scheduled trip and returned to California.
"Ruby Princess canceled the scheduled call to Cabo San Lucas today because of swells due to Hurricane Patricia," spokesperson Brea Burkholtz said via email. "The ship is headed back to Los Angeles for its scheduled arrival on Sunday, October 25."