By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writer
LOS CABOS, Mexico – Hurricane Jimena weakened into a tropical storm Wednesday as it plowed over Baja California, tearing off roofs, knocking down power poles and bringing welcome rainfall to a drought-stricken state.
The storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon between Puerto San Andresito and San Jaunico, a sparsely populated area of fishing villages on the Pacific coast of the peninsula.
Wind gusts and heavy rains blew down dozens of trees and lamp posts in Loreto, the nearest significant resort town to the area where Jimenamade landfall, according to Humberto Carmona, a city official manning an emergency response center. About 500 people were in shelters inLoreto, which lies roughly on the other side of the narrow peninsula from where Jimena made landfall.
The federal government said more than 11,000 people went to shelters in the peninsula.
The picturesque beach resorts of Los Cabos, on the southernmost tip, were mostly spared overnight, when the roaring hurricane toppled signs, choked streets with mud and knocked out power, but did little serious damage. No injuries were reported.
Winds weakened rapidly from Tuesday’s roaring 150 mph (240 kph)Category 4 blasts to 70 mph (110 kph), making Jimena a tropical storm. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken further as it runs north up the Baja peninsula, which is home to about 3.5 million people, including more than 150,000 U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. State Department.
By late Wednesday, Jimena was located about 40 miles (65 kms) south of Santa Rosalita, and moving north near 12 mph (19 kph). The Mexican government discontinued all hurricane warnings, changing them to tropical storm warnings.
Luis Armando Diaz, the Baja California interior secretary, told The Associated Press that there has been “major damage” in and around Ciudad Constitucion, where roads were flooded and about 5,700 people took refuge in shelters. But he said there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.
“A lot of roofs were blown off,” he said. “We have 125 electricity poles toppled and trees knocked over.”
In Los Cabos, Ariel Rivero, 49, a fishing boat captain who grew up in Long Beach, California, and moved here 30 years ago, surveyed the marina where his boat, the Great Escape, was undamaged.
“We really lucked out,” Rivero said. “If it had hit Cabo head on, this place would have been a disaster,” he said of the hundreds of tightly packed boats, some worth millions, and the surrounding resort hotels now basking in the calm.
“All those windows would have blown out, (boat) cleats breaking, antennas breaking … it would have been a disaster,” Rivero said.
Workers took down sheets of plywood from a shuttered Starbucks and other stores as they prepared to reopen, and workers swept up tree branches, sand and trash deposited in the streets by minor flooding.
“Everyone is kind of breathing a sigh of relief,” said Shari Bondy, who rents homes and runs a campground with her family in the remote coastal fishing village of Bahia Asuncion, halfway up the peninsula from Los Cabos.
With the weakening storm expected to arrive there Thursday night, she said “everything is still all boarded up, roofs are tied down, everything is ready, but right now we have blue skies.”
In the town of Mulege, midway up Baja’s east coast, tour operator Salvador Castro Drew said locals are keeping a close watch on a flood-prone river.
“We have some rain and some wind right now,” he said, “but what we’re worried about is when the rain comes down from the mountains.”
Forecasters predicted the hurricane would drop 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 centimeters) of rain onto arid Baja deserts, and dry stream beds already were gushing torrents.
But Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Jimena would not bring much-needed rain to quench Southern California’s wildfires, and will instead head back over the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Erika was losing strength as it moved west of Antigua and Guadeloupe with top winds of about 40 mph (65 kph). The storm was located 290 miles (470 kilometers) east-southeast of San Juan Puerto Rico and was moving westward at about 9 mph (15 kph).