Mex­ico bears brunt of ear­li­est Cat­e­gory 2 hur­ri­cane in 40 years; South Texas re­lieved af­ter mostly be­ing spared by worst of storm

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul J. We­ber

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.

Eric Gay

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