MEXICO REELS; SOUTH TEXAS SIGHS
Mexico bears brunt of earliest Category 2 hurricane in 40 years; South Texas relieved after mostly being spared by worst of storm
BROWNSVILLE — Shelters emptied and flooding receded Thursday after Hurricane Alex harmlessly swiped Texas and let the Rio Grande Valley escape with a mostly mild test run barely a month into the Atlantic hurricane season.
Alex weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday while churning across northern Mexico, where it paralyzed the major city of Monterrey. At least two people were killed when dry rivers roared to life and highways turned into rushing streams.
It made landfall late Wednesday as the earliest Category 2 storm in more than 40 years, but Texas got little more than soaking thunderstorms.
“It was a great drill,” said Johnny Cavanos, Cameron County’s emergency management coordinator. Sergio Alvarez shovels seaweed on South Padre Island in the aftermath of Hurricane Alex on Thursday. The storm largely spared Texas, which had prepared for a possible direct hit.
No injuries or major damage was reported, and pumps were sucking out high water in only a few areas by Thursday morning. Authorities said lowlying colonias — slapdash and unincorporated border communities frequently without public utilities — stood up well to Alex.
In Mexico, Nuevo León Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz told the Televisa Monterrey network he had ordered all schools closed and appealed for people to stay home from all but essential jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Monterrey also closed because of the storm.
De la Cruz said Alex had already dumped 16 inches of rain in some areas.
Crews swept up debris in Matamoros, a city across the border from Brownsville. Emergency officials still had to use boats to survey the damage in some neighborhoods.
The storm dumped 9 to 11 inches of rain in the Brownsville area, but the intermittent punches of Alex’s spinning outer bands gave the floodprone Valley time to recover between lashes of soaking downpours and gusts that reached 66 mph.
That saved South Texas the devastating floods brought by Hurricane Dolly in 2008, when the Category 2 storm made landfall on South Padre Island. Cameron County had no respite then to dry out while Dolly slowly crawled over the Texas-Mexico border.
“While we breathe a sigh of relief for this storm … it’s early in the season,” Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday, urging Texans to heed Alex as a warning. “Before they go back to business as usual, Texans need to take inventory and make sure they’re prepared to handle the next storm — whether that’s setting aside the necessary supplies like food and water, preparing their property to withstand a storm or thinking about an evacuation plan, now is the time to get ready — not when the winds are starting to kick up.”
The causeway to South Padre Island reopened early Thursday after strong gusts had shut down the bridge to the mainland Wednesday. Although the worst of the weather had passed, a tornado watch remained in effect Thursday for most of South Texas.
More than 1,000 people had packed shelters in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, but nearly all left at daybreak.
American Electric Power reported that less than 2 percent of customers were without power, a mere blip compared with the 211,000 homes blacked out when Dolly thundered ashore two years ago.
“That was the difference between us taking a landfall 80 to 100 miles away like this one did, and taking a direct hit like we did two years ago,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Campbell in Brownsville.
The Mexican navy reported Thursday that it had rescued seven people Wednesday from a fishing boat that ran aground on the remote, low-lying Gulf island of Cayo Nuevo, about 130 miles off the Mexican coast.
At 10 p.m. Thursday, the remnants of Alex were about 35 miles north of Zacatecas, with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph.