Texas, Mexico prepare for Tropical Storm Dolly

Published 7:42 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Texas mobilized National Guard troops and residents along the Gulf Coast near the Mexican border were buying plywood, flashlights and gasoline as Tropical Storm Dolly gained strength early Tuesday over the Gulf on its way to becoming a hurricane before it hits land.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for parts of the Texas and Mexico coasts, meaning hurricane conditions were expected in those areas by the end of Tuesday.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Dolly’s winds were expected to strengthen before landfall to hurricane force, which would mean at least 74 mph.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

At 8 a.m. EDT, data from a NOAA plane indicated maximum sustained winds had increased to near 65 mph with higher gusts.

Dolly was expected to make landfall later this week and bring with it high winds and up to 15 inches of rain and coastal storm surge flooding of 4 to 6 feet above normal high tide levels.

Emergency officials feared major flooding problems and urged coastal residents to prepare. Gov. Rick Perry activated 1,200 National Guard troops and other emergency crews and Shell Oil said it was evacuating workers from oil rigs in the western Gulf of Mexico. Shell said it didn’t expect its production to be affected by the storm.

Even as far up the coast as the Houston area, Harris County officials told residents to be ready in case the storm changes course and heads their way.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from Brownsville north to Port O’Connor. Meanwhile, a tropical storm warning was issued from north of Port O’Connor to the San Luis Pass, a strait south of Galveston.

Mexico also announced a hurricane warning from Rio San Fernando north to the U.S. border. A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were also in effect from La Pesca to Rio San Fernando.

Forecasters said Dolly was expected to make landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane, which has with sustained winds of 74 mph to 95 mph.

Texas officials said they wouldn’t order evacuations along the coast unless Dolly strengthens to a Category 3, with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

At 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday, the center of Tropical Storm Dolly was located over the Gulf about 265 miles southeast of Brownsville. It was moving west-northwest at about 13 mph. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 160 miles.

There are about 2 million people in the Rio Grande Valley, which includes popular summer beach resort South Padre Island. Officials readied to evacuate residents in flood-prone areas and urged RV owners on South Padre to head for higher ground.

“That amount of rain will present a big flooding problem for us,” said Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator Johnny Cavazos.

Mindful of the disastrous evacuation before Hurricane Rita hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2005 — when far more people died from heat-related injuries and auto accidents fleeing the storm than from the severe weather — Perry also ordered 250 buses to be staged in San Antonio. He also ordered fuel teams to be ready to keep gas stations supplied and to help stranded motorists.

In the Houston area on Monday, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett asked residents of the state’s most populous county to keep their gas tanks full, stock up on supplies and make sure they have plans ready to either evacuate or ride out a storm.

At a Home Depot in Brownsville near the border between the two countries, residents bought plywood, generators, batteries and flashlights, said store operations manager John Paul Martinez. He said a lot of people were just learning of Dolly, which became a tropical storm Sunday.

The federal government was trying to decide whether they could begin construction on a new border fence, which was to be combined with levee improvements along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County.

While project supervisors met with emergency officials about the storm, large cranes unloaded steel beams and other supplies at a staging area near the levee Monday. Concrete walls will be incorporated into the river side of the levees to keep floodwaters, illegal immigrants and smugglers out.

The county is upgrading other levees and informed contractors Monday they should activate plans to prevent flooding, said Godfrey Garza, head of Hidalgo County Drainage District 1.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Cristobal was moving toward the northeast at about 21 mph, away from the U.S. Cristobal was located about 485 miles northeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., with maximum sustained winds near 60 mph. Forecasters said the storm, which dumped rain on the coast of the Carolinas, was no longer an immediate threat to the U.S.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Genevieve strengthened slightly off Mexico’s coast, but forecasters said the storm was not expected to threaten land. Tropical Storm Fausto, which had been a hurricane, also was weakening and moving out to sea.