Hurricane Humberto crashes ashore in Texas, pushes into Louisiana bearing heavy rains

Published 4:54 pm Thursday, September 13, 2007

Humberto, the first hurricane to hit the U.S. in two years, sneaked up on south Texas and Louisiana overnight and crashed ashore Thursday with heavy rains and 80 mph winds, killing at least one person.

The system weakened to a tropical storm by midmorning and bore into central Louisiana. The greatest concern in Texas was heavy rain falling in areas already inundated by a wet summer.

Humberto made landfall less than 50 miles from where Hurricane Rita did in 2005, and areas of southwest Louisiana not fully recovered from Rita were bracing for more misery.

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“I’m in a FEMA trailer (because of Rita) and I’m on oxygen,” said Albertha Garrett, 70, who spent the night at a shelter in the Lake Charles Civic Center. “I had to come to the civic center just in case the lights would go out, because I’m alone and I’m handicapped.”

Humberto strengthened from a tropical depression with 35 mph winds to a hurricane with 85 mph winds in just 18 hours, senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“To put this development in perspective — no tropical cyclone in the historical record has ever reached this intensity at a faster rate near landfall. It would be nice to know, someday, why this happened,” Franklin said.

The Category 1 storm struck about 5 miles east of High Island, near the eastern tip of the Texas coast.

About 100,000 customers were without power in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Entergy Texas spokeswoman Debi Derrick said.

One location blacked out was Jefferson County’s Emergency Operations Center in Beaumont, where wind speeds of 75 to 80 mph were noted, said Michael White, the county’s assistant emergency management coordinator. Officials there tracked the storm with laptops.

Valero Energy Corp. said a power outage shut down its 325,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Port Arthur, but other oil facilities were unaffected.

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

The Beaumont Enterprise reported that in High Island, the storm ripped the roof off a grocery store and toppled the scoreboard and clusters of lights at the football stadium.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were discontinued for the Texas and Louisiana coasts by midmorning. At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of Humberto was about 75 miles west-northwest of Lafayette, La. It was moving toward the north-northeast near 12 mph.

The storm’s rain bands were spreading over the coast and between 4 and 8 inches of rain were expected, with some spots possibly getting as much as 12 inches. Some flooding was expected, but authorities said evacuations were not necessary.

Gov. Rick Perry activated 50 military vehicles with 200 soldiers, plus a half-dozen helicopters and two swift-water rescue teams. Other crews from the U.S. Coast Guard were on standby.

“Some areas of our state remain saturated by summer floods, and many communities in this storm’s projected path are at high risk of dangerous flash flooding,” Perry said.

In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency. Calcasieu and Vermilion parishes had shelters on standby. Vermilion also was making sandbags and sand available, said Mark Smith, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The storm flooded highways and knocked out power to an estimated 13,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana.

Last month, at least six deaths were blamed on Tropical Storm Erin, which dropped nearly a foot of rain in parts of Texas.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison soaked Houston with 20 inches of rain in eight hours. About two dozen people died and damage was estimated at $5 billion.

Another tropical depression was far in the open Atlantic, about 930 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. It had maximum sustained winds near 35 mph, and forecasters said it could grow into a tropical storm in the next day.