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Tropical Storm Erika Nears Texas Border
AP Online August 16, 2003 | LYNN BREZOSKY, Associated Press Writer 00-00-0000 Dateline: BROWNSVILLE, Texas Tropical Storm Erika came ashore early Saturday, hitting Brownville’ s sister city of Matamoros, Mexico, with high winds and heavy rains. The severe weather downed trees and damaged roofs and cars in the Mexican border town, according to television reports.
On South Padre Island, waters were lapping up against a concrete barrier that ordinarily is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by about 150 yards of beach. Palm trees were being buffeted by the winds reaching gusts of 30 to 40 mph and higher.
Strong winds and intermittent rain bands caused scattered power outages on the resort island, but Dan Quandt, director of the Visitors Center and Convention Bureau, said it was “no big deal.” Tourists and residents were “sitting tight,” he said. “They’re battened down for the night.” At 4 a.m. CDT, Erika was about 45 miles southeast of Brownsville and moving west at 18 mph, with sustained winds near 70 mph, just five miles less than hurricane strength. Tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 115 miles, the weather service reported. this web site category 1 hurricane
“We still haven’t seen the strongest winds yet,” said Alfredo Vega, a forecaster for the National Weather Service.
Vega said the storm was still expected to reach Category 1 hurricane strength, with winds of 75 mph or higher.
The downpours began falling in the Brownsville area about 1 a.m. CDT Saturday, prompting officials to close the Queen Isabella Causeway. The 2.34-mile bridge is the only route between South Padre Island and Port Isabella, just north of where Erika made landfall.
Underdeveloped, unpaved colonias, populated mostly by recent immigrants or migrants, were expected to turn quickly into quagmires, and people were heading into 11 county-run shelters.
In Brownsville, more than 300 people had arrived by 3 a.m. at a shelter at Hanna High School, and more were streaming in, carrying piles of blankets and coolers full of food. The halls were lined with families huddled together on blankets laid out on the tile floor.
Juan Coronado, 18, rocked his 3-month-old cousin as eight family members sat next to him on sleeping bags spread out on the floor.
“My mother decided to come because she didn’t trust the house,” he said.
Irene Ramirez, 15, sat against a row of lockers with her grandparents and three sisters.
The race westward by Erika, which reached tropical storm strength only Thursday, caught Gulf Coast residents by surprise, sending farmers, fishermen and some residents scrambling Friday.
Weather forecaster Jim Campbell said Erika would be “right smack dab on top of us” in Brownsville, just north of the Mexican border. The Rio Grande Valley is home to 860,000 people.
Residents scrambled with last-minute precautions, standing in long lines to buy groceries and hammering away at plywood to cover windows. A hurricane warning was in effect from Brownsville to Baffin Bay and from La Pesca, Mexico, northward to the U.S. border. go to website category 1 hurricane
Emergency officials are prepared to respond to any potential crisis, said Texas Emergency Management coordinator Jack Colley. National Guard troops as well as local search and rescue teams are on standby.
The rainfall threatened to devastate the 35 percent of the remaining cotton harvest still in the fields, said Hollis Sullivan of the General Valley Co-Op Oil Mill.
Erika made its approach one month after Hurricane Claudette pounded Texas about 75 miles farther north.
Claudette, the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season, hit the mid-Texas coast July 15, classified as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained wind of 85 mph. At least two people were killed, both by falling trees or limbs, and the storm tore off roofs and flattened trailers.
The last hurricane to hit far South Texas was Bret, which in August 1999 struck the largely desolate ranchland region between the Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi.
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LYNN BREZOSKY, Associated Press Writer