PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - Hurricane John pummeled Mexico's resort-studded Pacific Coast with wind and rain Thursday, plotting a course that could take its eye close to land before nicking the tip of Baja California.
Authorities in Puerto Vallarta, among Mexico's most-visited resorts, scrambled to prepare emergency shelters while sending patrols to hunt for possible damage from John. But tourists and residents stayed calm even as the powerful hurricane rumbled closer.
John grew into a Category 4 storm Wednesday but later weakened to a Category 3. Still, it had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph and stronger gusts capable of ripping off roofs.
The storm was expected to strengthen Thursday, and Mexico issued hurricane warnings for about 400 miles of coast from the port of Lazaro Cardenas to the fishing and shipping community of San Blas, an area encompassing the bay where Puerto Vallarta is located.
While the center of John was forecast to remain just offshore, hurricane-force winds were expected to begin raking beaches near Puerto Vallarta by Thursday, the hurricane center said.
Forecasters said John wasn't likely to affect the United States - cooler Pacific waters tend to diminish the storms before they reach California. Instead, it was expected to skirt close to Mexico's Pacific Coast and head for the Baja California Peninsula by Friday.
Parts of the southern Baja Peninsula, including the resort city of Cabo San Lucas, were also under a hurricane warning.
At 8 a.m. EDT, the hurricane was 95 miles southwest of port city of Manzanillo, moving west-northwest at 14 mph.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm could drop up to 18 inches of rain in some places and create up to a 5-foot storm surge on the coast. The center warned of "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" in mountain areas.
William Rousseau, vacationing with his family from Oregon, said Puerto Vallarta hotel officials warned about the storm, "but we're calm because they say it's not going to hit this city."
"We're continuing to enjoy the city," he said Wednesday. "They just asked us not to go into the ocean or on any bay tours."
Officials postponed the arrival of a Carnival cruise ship, prohibited customary tours of the bay and announced public schools would be closed Thursday. Puerto Vallarta Mayor Gustavo Gonzales said 50 shelters had been readied, and emergency crews prepared to patrol throughout the night.
Some coastal communities in Jalisco state, where Puerto Vallarta is located, were being evacuated because of their proximity to two dams, state authorities said.
The sense of urgency was higher in Cabo San Lucas, where fishermen and authorities were hurriedly preparing for John's arrival. The city's port captain, Everardo Jimenez, said he had instructed the operators of a tourist boat to come back to dock.
"We are preparing shelters for the evacuation of civilians, if that becomes necessary," said Luis Armando Diaz, mayor of Los Cabos, on Baja's southern tip. "According to the information we have, the storm is coming right toward Los Cabos."
Back on the mainland, tropical storm-force winds and light but endless rain were reported in the resort cities of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, as well as Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico's deepest port.
Forecasters predicted up to 10 inches of rain on the coast and "torrential downpours" in the Jalisco state capital of Guadalajara, government news agency Notimex said.
Meanwhile, a new hurricane formed further west. Hurricane Kristy, with nearly 75 mph wind, was about 690 miles away from John, but forecasters said some interaction was possible. If that happened, Kristy would likely be absorbed by the larger John, forecasters said.