Hurricane Hillary moved toward Baja California, Mexico on Saturday, with the National Hurricane Center predicting “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” for the peninsula and the southwestern United States, and is expected to make landfall in the region as a tropical storm on Sunday.
Officials as far north as Los Angeles were scrambling to get the homeless off the streets, build shelters and prepare for evacuations.
Hillary was expected to sweep across the Mexican peninsula on Saturday night before storming north, going down in history as the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm watch for a large swath of Southern California, from the Pacific coast to inland mountains and deserts. Officials discuss evacuation plans for Catalina Island, California.
“I don’t think any of us — I know me in particular — ever thought I’d be standing here talking about a hurricane or a tropical storm,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors President Janice Hahn.
After rapidly gaining strength early Friday, Hillary slowed later in the day, but remained a Category 4 hurricane early Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h), low at 145 mph (230 km/h).
The center of the storm was about 240 miles (390 kilometers) west-southwest of the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula early Saturday. It was moving north-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph) and was expected to turn further north and gain speed.
The latest forecast track shows Clinton making landfall on the sparsely populated Baja Peninsula about 200 miles (330 kilometers) south of the Pacific port city of Ensenada.
The hurricane was then expected to continue northward, with fears the heavy rain could trigger dangerous flooding in the border city of Tijuana, a city of 1.9 million where many homes cling precariously to steep hillsides.
Montserrat Mayor Ramirez said the city was setting up four shelters in high-risk areas and issued a warning to people in high-risk areas.
“Because of our landscape, we are a fragile city on one of the most visited borders in the world,” she said.
U.S. concerns are also growing.
The National Park Service closed Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Monument to prevent people from becoming trapped in floodwaters. Various cities in the area, including Arizona, are providing sandbags to protect properties from flooding. Major League Baseball has rescheduled three Sunday games in Southern California, moving them to Saturday as part of the doubles,
Representatives from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department hit the road urging homeless people living in River Plate to seek shelter. Authorities in the city are arranging food, cots and shelter for those in need.
SpaceX delayed the launch of a rocket carrying satellites from its base on California’s central coast until at least Monday. Conditions in the Pacific Ocean could make it difficult for ships to recover the rocket boosters, the company said.
President Joe Biden said FEMA has pre-positioned personnel and supplies in the area.
“I urge everyone, everyone in this storm, to take precautions and heed the guidance of state and local officials,” Biden told reporters Friday at a meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea at Camp David.
Officials in Southern California are reinforcing sand banks built to protect low-lying coastal communities from winter surf, such as Huntington Beach, the self-proclaimed “Surf City of America.”
In nearby Newport Beach, Tanner Atkinson waited in line at a city distribution point to receive free sandbags.
“I mean, a lot of people here are excited because the waves are going to get pretty big,” Atkinson said. “But I mean, there’s going to be some rain, so there’s usually some flooding and landslides and things like that.”
Some schools in Cabo San Lucas are preparing to serve as temporary shelters, and in La Paz, the capital of the picturesque Baja California Sur state on the Sea of Cortez, police patrol a closed beach to protect swimmers from rough waves attack. Schools in five cities were closed.
The National Weather Service’s San Diego office said it was increasingly likely that Hillary would reach California on Sunday while still at tropical storm strength, though widespread rain was expected as early as Saturday.
Hurricane officials said the storm could bring heavy rainfall to the southwestern U.S., with 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) in some areas and up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in some areas, southern California and parts of southern Nevada.
Kristen Corbosiero, an atmospheric scientist at the University at Albany who specializes in Pacific hurricanes, said that “two to three inches of rainfall in Southern California is unheard of” this time of year. “You’ll have all of summer and fall rainfall in about six to 12 hours.”
Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at the Yale Climate Connection and a former government flying hurricane meteorologist, said the region could face 100-year rainfall and that Nevada has a good chance of breaking its all-time rainfall record. .
Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press reporters Seth Borenstein (Washington), Maria Verza and Mark Stevenson (Mexico City), John Anchuk (Los Angeles) and Eugene Garcia ( Newport Beach, Calif.) contributed to this report.