Tijuana braces for Hilary impact: ‘I’m just praying that nobody gets hurt’

Mud flows down a street in Ensenada.
A street is covered in mud as Tropical Storm Hilary makes landfall in Ensenada, Mexico.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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The Mexico border city of Tijuana braced for flooding, mudslides and power outages Sunday, with authorities opening five temporary shelters and placing 18,000 soldiers on alert as Tropical Storm Hilary crept north.

Though Hilary had been downgraded from a hurricane by the time it hit the Baja California coast earlier in the day, city officials were preparing for the worst. They took to social media to warn people to stay off the roads, seal doors and windows and avoid crossing fast-moving water.

The center of the storm was expected to reach the city of about 2 million during the late afternoon, giving residents more time to stockpile water, food and other supplies.


In the Aviacion neighborhood, street vendor Jonathan Muñoz said he will be outside for the duration of the storm.

“My plan is I’m just gonna stay right here and I’m just gonna work,” he said. “I sell candy for 10 pesos. That’s the only way I make money.”

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Muñoz, who is from Puebla state, said he was raised in Gardena and deported back to Mexico six years ago. The main thing that worries him about Hilary is the prospect of widespread power outages.

“I’m just praying that nobody gets hurt.”

Hilary made landfall in a sparsely populated area about 150 miles south of the town of Ensenada. It has already caused extensive flooding.

One person drowned Saturday in the town of Santa Rosalia when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream.

Tijuana awoke to cloudy skies and intermittent rain. Some neighborhoods had lost power. The airport was still open though several flights had been canceled. Stores along Avenida Revolución opened as usual.


In the wealthy Zona Rio area, shoppers flocked to Costco — but many said it was only for their regular Sunday shopping and not in preparation for the storm. A few blocks away, a fire spinner stood in the street, still intent on earning tips in the rain.

South of Tijuana, Alicia Harvey-Vera — an American expat who rescues animals — recorded video of fog and rain moving toward her home a few blocks from the beach near Rosarito. After more than a decade in the area, Harvey-Vera said she was used to preparing to get by without power and already had solar panels on hand.

“I’m a bit concerned because what we have now is not the core of the storm,” she said.

She said she spent Saturday driving around to identify potential hazards, like unsecured trash cans. Some people had already left town, she said, and some were not interested in prepping. Others joined her efforts as part of an informal storm prep committee.

“I’m a strong believer in solidarity,” she said.

In downtown Tijuana on Sunday afternoon, Fatima Rodriguez Hernandez, a clerk at an OXXO convenience store, pointed to a pile of sandbags when asked about preparations for the storm.

“The company sent us the bags so we can put them in front of the door if it gets very heavy,” she said.

People have been streaming in and out of the store throughout the day to make last-minute purchases.


“People are coming and getting basic stuff, food and all that, water,” she said. As for herself, Rodriguez said the only thing she stocked up on was “candles, for if the power goes off.”

At one of the temporary shelters, Francisco Gonzalez and his wife tried to nap on a cot. Gonzalez said he learned of the shelter from the news and decided to come because his home flooded to knee height during a heavy rain a few months ago. He said he and his wife just planned to stay in the shelter until the storm passed.

Gerardo López, the city’s secretary of welfare, said that as of Sunday afternoon there were roughly 60 people staying in four of the city’s five shelters — though they are expecting far more.

After opening the storm shelters yesterday, he said, officials brought in 50 people who were living on the streets and under bridges. They were later taken to other shelters to make room for more people seeking refuge from the storm.

“We’re ready,” López said.

Julian Castillo’s family has lived in the middle-class Colonia Castillo neighborhood since the 1990s. The retiree said his pastel-green-painted home where he plans to ride out Hilary has never sustained significant damage in a storm.

But just a block away, deep murky water pools at the bottom of a hill whenever it rains.

“It always gets flooded. When it rains down there it clogs very easily,” Castillo said. “People here don’t clean up the storm drains before the rain. They do it after something happens. I keep telling them you’re supposed to do it before, not after.“


Still, he said he hasn’t taken any steps to prepare for the expected deluge.

“I’m going to be here,” he said as light rain fell outside his front porch.