CBS/AP October 23, 2018, 9:43 AM Dangerous Hurricane Willa menacing Mexico's Pacific coast

Last Updated Oct 23, 2018 11:20 AM EDT

MAZATLAN, Mexico — Hurricane Willa headed toward a Tuesday afternoon collision with a stretch of Mexico's Pacific coast, its 125 mph winds and high waves threatening high-rise resorts, surfing beaches and fishing villages. Farther south, meanwhile, Mexican officials reported 12 deaths related to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Vicente.

Willa briefly reached Category 5 strength Monday, then weakened to Category 3 Tuesday morning. But the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that it still was likely to bring "life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall" to parts of west-central and southwestern Mexico.

CBS News Radio reporter Adrienne Bard reported on CBSN that Willa was expected to be one of the most dangerous storms to hit Mexico in recent years. "There was Hurricane Patricia, which came in a Category 5 a couple years back in Puerto Vallarta and somehow miraculously didn't do any damage, so I think everyone's hoping for that," Bard said.

Early Tuesday, Willa was centered about 35 miles west-southwest of the Islas Marias, a group of islands about 60 miles offshore that include a nature preserve and a federal prison, and 130 miles south-southwest of the tourist resort of Mazatlan. It was moving north-northeast at 6 mph, but was forecast to make a turn to the northeast.

A map made by the U.S. National Hurricane Center shows the projected path for Hurricane Willa as of 11 a.m. ET on Oct. 23, 2018.

National Hurricane Center

Hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles from the storm's core, and tropical storm-force winds were up to 125 miles out. The U.S. hurricane center warned that Willa could bring 6 to 12 inches of rain — with up to 18 inches in some places — to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.

In Mazatlan, the beach had almost disappeared on Tuesday morning as waves slammed against the coastal boulevard, while black clouds loomed overhead. A few surfers took advantage of the high waves even as workers boarded up windows on hotels, shops and homes.

Schools were closed and the streets nearly empty. A decree of "extraordinary emergency" was issued for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states, the federal Interior Department announced.

Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state, in a vulnerable region of small towns sitting among farmland tucked between the sea and lagoons. After hitting the Islas Marias, forecasters said Willa would then blow ashore in the late afternoon somewhere along a 140-mile stretch from Mazatlan to San Blas.

While Willa was likely to weaken somewhat, forecasters said it still was expected to be a powerful Category 3 storm when it hits land. Enrique Moreno, mayor of Escuinapa, a municipality of about 60,000 people lying on Willa's potential track, said officials were trying to evacuate everybody in the seaside village of Teacapan.

He estimated 3,000 were affected but he expected some would try to stay. "The people don't want to evacuate, but it's for their security," he said.

About 60 miles up the coast in Mazatlan, with a metropolitan-area population of about 500,000, Mayor Jose Joel Boucieguez said officials prepared shelters and were closely monitoring low-lying areas. Mazatlan is a popular vacation spot and home to a large number of American and Canadian expatriates.

Farther to the south, Tropical Storm Vicente had weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday, but it was still bringing heavy rainfall that caused dangerous flooding in southern and southwestern Mexico. Officials in Oaxaca state said seven adults and five children had lost their lives in drownings or mudslides.

A map made by the U.S. National Hurricane Center shows the projected path for Hurricane Willa as of 11 a.m. ET on Oct. 23, 2018.