Byline: Capt. Pat Rains
MANZANILLO, Mexico — Eight people died and an estimated 10,000 homes were destroyed when Category 2 Hurricane Jova slammed into Mexico’s Gold Coast, Oct. 11 and 12.
Three days before Jova came ashore, the government began issuing storm alerts on television and opening 30 evacuation shelters. Both measures were credited in the relatively low death toll.
“Authorities are taking this one seriously,” reported Jane Gorby of La Manzanilla Memo, as Jova’s outer bands arrived. Gorby, who evacuated to safer ground, said strong surf had already prompted fishermen to move their boats off the beaches, and “the Proteccion Civil has opened shelters.”
After Hurricane Jova’s eye slowly moved ashore, marine helicopters air- lifted tons of food and surgical teams to 50 villages that were cut off by what officials called “the worst flooding in decades.” The exact number of families who remain homeless after Jova won’t be known for weeks, according to Televisa news.
Jova’s stormy seas lashed the Pacific Coast from Cabo Corrientes south through Manzanillo. Driving inland to the western foothills of the Sierra del Sur mountains, Jova brought torrential downpours that overflowed dozens of rivers and collapsed several road bridges — destroying many streets and homes.
Five deaths were caused by walls that collapsed into homes as residents slept or drowned in the raging streams.
Initial assessments by Jalisco and Colima state officials reported that Barra de Navidad and Manzanillo sustained severe storm wave damage.
Videos posted by residents of Barra de Navidad were taken during 24 hours of raging surf. Muddy storm waves pounded the shores, chewing away the broad outer beaches and undermining parts of the town’s protective seawall.
Dawn images showed that the front halves of at least six concrete buildings had cracked off, and some had actually tipped down into the sea. The damaged multi-story hotels and oceanfront restaurants were all on the west side of Legaspi Avenue, most within a five-block span.
Inside Laguna Navidad, parkland and trees on the southeast side of Barra’s malecon walkway were eaten away by swirling storm surge. Muddy runoff from three overflowing rivers poured through both lagoons at Barra, exiting to the sea through the navigable boat channel.
The port captain of Barra de Navidad, in a telephone interview on Oct. 18, said that the entrance channel is open and still navigable — with a depth of 18 feet in the center of the channel. He said the lagoon channel is presently safe for getting into the marina basin at Marina Puerto Isla de la Navidad. The marina itself could not be reached by telephone or email, but the port captain said it is open and undamaged.
However, the port captain cautioned that buoys were swept away during Hurricane Jova and the subsequent massive runoff through the lagoons.
When asked for advice to recreational boaters arriving in Barra de Navidad for the upcoming cruising season, Barra’s port captain said the marina is open, but boaters need to use extra caution in the lagoons, and that the buoy system will be replaced as soon as possible.
A system of small unofficial stakes set by visiting boaters to mark a free anchorage area in Laguna Navidad was probably swept away by the same Jova runoff that ripped out the official buoys, and bottom depths in both lagoons are likely to have changed.
At Marabasco Shoal, a popular coastal fishing location between Bahia Navidad and Manzanillo Bay, Rio Marabasco breached the sea berm and deposited tons of debris and broken tree trunks into the ocean, according to local skippers. Rio Marabasco runs through the town of Cihuatlan, which officials said suffered the most flood damage in the two-state region.
Manzanillo’s international airport, Playa de Oro, which lies 2 miles down the coast from Marabasco Shoal, was closed during Hurricane Jova’s furious landfall. However, it was reopened Oct. 16, according to Javier Barragan Gomez, a reporter for La Noticia newspaper in Manzanillo. Barragan reported that 500 passengers were awaiting flights out.
In the Manzanillo Bay area of Colima state, the rivers Santiago and Salagua overflowed their banks and ripped out highway bridges connecting the coastal resort towns of Miramar, Santiago, La Audiencia, Las Hadas and Salagua to the rest of Manzanillo. Videos of the downpour and subsequent washouts were posted on YouTube — many by cell-phone.
Rio Salagua normally enters Manzanillo Bay about a mile east of the anchorage outside Marina Las Hadas, so boaters probably cannot rely on last year’s depth soundings.
Freda Rumford, editor of Manzanillo Sun e-magazine, said, “Las Hadas golf course is now Lago (lake) de Las Hadas.” As an eyewitness to the storm in Manzanillo, Rumford lauded community preparation efforts as “impressive.”
“Never have there been so many electricity trucks on the boulevard waiting, which they were since 7 a.m. on Tuesday,” just before the storm struck, Rumford said. “Windows of restaurants and stores were taped and sandbags piled in front of Office Depot in readiness,” she reported.
The International Red Cross and several local groups are accepting donations for those left homeless and out of work in Jova’s wake.