Humberto leaves thousands without power in Texas, Louisiana before taking aim at Mississippi

Published 4:23 pm Friday, September 14, 2007

Some residents of Texas and Louisiana fired up generators to cut through the darkness after Hurricane Humberto sneaked up on the Gulf Coast, knocking out power to thousands and flooding streets before fizzling into a tropical depression.

Humberto, the first hurricane to hit the U.S. in two years, steadily lost its punch Thursday after sloshing ashore in Texas as a stronger storm than initially expected and then dragging across Louisiana. One death was blamed on the storm.

Early Friday, the remnants of Humberto took aim at Mississippi, where flood watches were in effect. Flood warnings were issued for portions of the Vermilion River in Louisiana.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared three southeastern counties disaster areas. At one point, about 118,000 customers lost electricity in Texas and Louisiana.

“We’re pushing in generators, water and ice to affected areas, particularly those who have lost power,” said Robert Black, Perry’s spokesman. “We’re working with the private sector to get power restored as quickly as possible.”

Forecasters didn’t put out their first advisory on what became Humberto until almost midday Wednesday. It strengthened from a tropical depression with 35-mph winds to a hurricane with 85-mph winds in just 18 hours, said senior hurricane specialist James Franklin at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Only three other storms have pulled off a similar feat, growing from depression to hurricane in 18 hours — Blanche in 1969, Harvey in 1981 and Alberto in 1982 — but all of them were out at sea at the time, not about to crash ashore like Humberto.

Humberto made landfall early Thursday less than 50 miles from where Hurricane Rita did in 2005, and areas of southwest Louisiana not fully recovered from Rita braced for flooding.

Along Port Arthur’s refinery row, three crude oil and liquid hydrocarbons plants were idled until power was restored. Some could be off-line for several days, even after power is restored, because they must undergo the full restart process.

Before it lost strength, Humberto hit the tiny Texas town of High Island, population 500, best known as a way station for exotic migratory birds each spring and fall at its bird sanctuary.

Jerry Green, 60, rode out the storm in a small trailer at an RV park. “I didn’t think it was going to be that bad,” Green said. “Everybody else in the RV park left. I would have left also if I had known what was going to happen.”

Roofs were torn from stores and homes, power lines and telephone poles littered the street and the lights and scoreboard at the school’s football stadium were in pieces.

“We never dreamed we were going to wake up to this,” said Audie Tackett, principal of the K-12 school, where classes are to resume Monday.

Galveston County Emergency Management officials told residents late Thursday it could be four days before the electricity would be restored. Land telephone lines also weren’t working in some areas.

One man died when the carport at his home collapsed on him, Bridge City Police Chief Steve Faircloth said. The town is between Port Arthur and Orange.

On Thursday, Jack Payton sat in the back of a pickup truck eating a burrito and watching as people continued loading furniture and other items from his High Island home.

“I won’t say I’m lucky. I’m blessed,” he said.

In southern Louisiana, a house was knocked off its foundation as the storm approached and an accident involving an overturned tractor-trailer was blamed on Humberto’s driving wind and rain.

Far off in the open ocean, Tropical Storm Ingrid on Thursday became the ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, according to the hurricane center.

Early Friday, Ingrid’s center was about 805 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. The storm was moving toward the west-northwest near 7 mph and was expected to continue at that pace for the next 24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds were near 40 mph with higher gusts. A small increase in strength is possible during the next day. Tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 50 miles from the center.

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