MEXICO CITY – Hurricane Jimena, which had grown nearly to a Category 5 storm threatening to batter Mexico's Baja peninsula, weakened considerably today, and the resort town of Los Cabos has breathed a sigh of relief as it seems to have escaped major damage.
Now a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds at 105 miles per hour, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said that Jimena should gradually weaken as it moves northward. It is currently about 95 miles west-southwest of La Paz and 110 miles south-southeast of Cabo San Lazaro.
"The core of Jimena will be near or just offshore the west coast of the southern Baja California peninsula today and near or over the central Baja California peninsula on Thursday," the US National Hurricane Center announced in a public advisory. "A dangerous storm surge along with large and dangerous battering waves will produce significant coastal flooding along the Baja California peninsula."
A hurricane warning was in effect for the northern part of the peninsula, and authorities said "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."
While no major damage in Los Cabos was reported, areas further north remained vulnerable. Baja California Sur rushed to complete preparations, setting up shelters for up to 30,000 people. Already some 3,000 people have been evacuated and 25,000 emergency food packs were distributed. Schools and other businesses will remain closed for five days starting yesterday.
State Interior Secretary Luis Armanado Diaz said that if damages are kept to a minimum, the storm could actually help a state suffering a severe drought. "If it continues like this, and there is not a major impact, it will help more than it will hurt," he said.
As it roared to shore, hurricane Jimena was one of the strongest on record to have threatened Baja, before weakening.
The last big storm to threaten the region was hurricane Juliet, a Category 4 hurricane that followed a similar track as Jimena and killed several people in September 2001. Causing $20.5 million in damage, it was the most costly on record for Baja.