PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico – Hurricane Bud weakened Friday as it headed toward a string of laid-back beach resorts and small mountain villages on Mexico's Pacific coast south of Puerto Vallarta. Two people, one of them from France, were reported missing in a separate storm in Cuba.
Mexican Authorities canceled school in 11 communities expected to be hit by heavy rains in Jalisco state, and emergency workers prepared emergency shelters, many of them in empty school classrooms.
Heavy rains and 6-foot (2-meter) high waves pelted Melaque, a beach town on the Bahia de Navidad, about 60 mph (100 kilometers) east of the sparsely populated stretch of coast where the hurricane's center was expected to come ashore during the night.
Rafael Galvez, manager of the Hotel Bahia in Melaque, said his staff would to board up windows before Bud's arrival.
"For me, really, this is my fourth hurricane. I went through Wilma in Cancun," which hit as a Category 4, Galvez said. "This is a little less severe."
Category 2 Hurricane Jova hit the area in October, killing six people and flooding parts of Melaque and neighboring Barra de Navidad.
"There was a lot of flooding in the whole area, and we lost electricity," Galvez recalled. But this week, he said, only seven of his hotel's 26 rooms were occupied, and none of the hotel's guests were planning to leave.
A separate storm was pounding much of Cuba and the Bahamas on Friday. Cuba's civil defense agency reported that a French citizen, Alain Manaud, and Silvestre Fortun Alvarez of Cuba were missing after trying to cross rain-swollen rivers, according to the government's Prensa Latina news agency. It said a search for them was continuing.
An official at the French Embassy in Havana said Manaud was 66 and had lived in Cuba for several years. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.
The agency quoted government meteorologists as saying more than 20 inches (500 millimeters) of rain had fallen on parts of the central province of Sancti Spiritus.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported that the system had about a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical or subtropical cyclone.
A hurricane warning was up for Mexico's Pacific coast from Manzanillo, east of Melaque, northwestward to Cabo Corrientes. A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning were in effect from Punta San Telmo westward to east of Manzanillo.
Bud had been a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) late Thursday, but it was down to Category 1 force with winds of 75 mph (120 kph) by late Friday afternoon. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Bud was expected to weaken further before hitting the coast during the night.
The storm was centered about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of Manzanillo and moving north near 7 mph (11 kph).
The Hurricane Center said the storm would likely decline to tropical storm-force as it hit land, move a little inland and then make a U-turn and head back out into the Pacific. Rain, rather than wind, could be the big threat, with the Hurricane Center warning of the "potential for life-threatening mudslides" in steep terrain inland.
The government of Jalisco state prepared hundreds of cots and dozens of heavy vehicles such as bulldozers that could be needed to move debris.
Officials in Puerto Vallarta said they were in close contact with managers of the hundreds of hotels in the city in case tourists need to move to eight emergency shelters. It said the sea along the city's famous beachfront was calm, but swimming had been temporarily banned as a precaution.
Jalisco state's civil defense office said two shelters had been opened in Cihuatlan, a town just inland from Melaque that was hard hit by flooding from Jova.
The office also said authorities had decided to open a trench to help drain a coastal lagoon near Melaque that was already full and could overflow.
The region is experienced at handling hurricanes, Galvez noted. "The government planning has helped a lot," he noted.
Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.