Local News

Hurricane Smacks Baja California, Bound for...

Posted September 25, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Hurricane Nora was downgraded to a tropical storm today after pummeling Baja California with high winds and heavy rain. Nora was headed toward the U.S. Southwest, where people hurried to fill sandbags and stockpile emergency supplies.

Nora was downgraded when its sustained winds dropped to 70 mph, and forecasters said further weakening is expected as it moves up the Gulf of California.

At 2 p.m. EDT, Nora was about 65 miles south of Yuma, Ariz., and moving north at 28 mph with sustained winds of 65 mph.

A gradual turn toward the north-northeast was expected during the next 12 to 24 hours, the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said. The center of Nora will likely move into northern Sonora state in Mexico and then into southwestern Arizona later.

An isolated tornado or two is possible later today over southwestern and south-central Arizona, the center said. Forecasters predicted up to 8 inches of rain for the Yuma region - double the area's average annual rainfall.

Nora hit the Baja California peninsula early today near Punta Eugenia, about midway down the 800-mile-long coastline.

Sea swells were estimated at 12 feet and winds at 60 mph at Bahia Tortugas, a village on Punta Eugenia, said witness Ruben Garcia.

``At the moment, there there is a lot of rain,'' Garcia said by telephone.

People living in homes scattered around the peninsula gathered in town for safety, he said. Paperboard roofing had been blown off a few homes, he said.

Nora was expected to move north up the Gulf of California, weakening as it approached southern Arizona. Meteorologists warned, however, that Nora would still be a tropical storm when it entered the United States - a rarity for the desert Southwest.

Authorities prepared for flash flooding in southeast California and Arizona. Meteorologists said rain was possible from the Southern California coast, north into Nevada and possibly southern Utah, and as far east as western Colorado and western New Mexico.

In Yuma, firefighters' shovels flashed as crews busily filled thousands of sandbags late Wednesday in preparation for the expected arrival of today's storm.

``People are worried, concerned - `Should I evacuate?''' said Richard Benson, communications supervisor for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office. ``We're in a pretty low-lying area down here, and it's a big concern.''

Yuma resident Shirley Ball waited in a blocks-long line for sandbags.

``We went to the grocery store and bought extra water and batteries for our flashlight, stocked up on groceries and we're getting sandbags from the Fire Department because water comes through the front door,'' she said.

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull sent National Guard trucks, generators and trailers that can carry gallons of potable water to Yuma. The Red Cross sent in a disaster team.

``We want to be safe, we want to be prepared, we want to be ready,'' Mrs. Hull said.

The Tohono O'odham Nation evacuated about two dozen families in isolated villages on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border today and canceled classes for all reservation schools through Friday.

Nora emerged as a tropical storm along the southern Mexican coast on Sept. 16 and reached hurricane force two days later. At its strongest, the storm had sustained winds of 125 mph.

It caused no deaths, but storm-churned waves as high as 16 feet pounded hundreds of miles of the Mexico coastline, destroying dozens of homes.

By NIKO PRICE,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.