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Erin drenches Texas; Dean could be next

/ Source: The Associated Press

Texans battled rain and flooding Saturday from the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin as Gulf Coast residents cast a wary eye toward Hurricane Dean, which strengthened to a Category 4 storm as it charged through the Caribbean.

At least six people died this week because of Erin’s thunderstorms. One person remained missing.

The storm’s remnants poured more rain on parts of western Texas on Saturday, and the National Weather Service said flash flood warnings remained in effect for wide sections of the state.

More than 9 inches of rain had fallen in the Houston area, and more than 10 had been measured north of San Antonio at the town of Boerne since Erin arrived, the weather service said.

Dean, which forecasters said could threaten the United States by Wednesday, blew through the Caribbean on Saturday with top sustained wind strengthened to 150 mph. It was expected to steer next week into the Gulf of Mexico, with its 4,000 oil and gas platforms.

At 2 p.m. EDT, Dean was centered about 505 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and about 175 miles south of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west-northwest at 17 mph. Hurricane warnings were in effect for parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, a hurricane watch was posted for the Cayman Islands and Cuba issued a tropical storm warning.

Although forecasters said it was too early to tell whether the storm would eventually strike the U.S. coast somewhere, state officials were preparing for the worst.

Gov. Rick Perry declared the storm an “imminent threat” and initiated full-scale preparations. Fuel trucks were dispatched to coastal communities, storm-response task forces were put on alert and supply trucks and other resources were pre-positioned along evacuation routes.

“It’s so far out, but it’s not too early to start preparing,” said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger. “We have more notice than with Erin. We’re glad for that especially since (Dean) is projected to bring some strength.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the executive of the county that includes Houston, called Erin’s rain and flooding “a wet run” for the impending Dean.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency Friday and requested a federal declaration that would allow federal resources to flow to the state should Dean strike any part of the Louisiana coast.

Forecast projections showed a slim chance of the storm jumping northward toward Louisiana, but it was enough to put Louisiana emergency preparedness officials on high alert, given the weakened condition of the state’s coastline since it was pummeled by hurricanes Katrina and Rita a little less than two years ago.

Summer storms have poured record rainfall across Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, with floods killing 22 people since mid-June. One July storm dropped 17 inches of rain in 24 hours and brought Texas out of a more than decade-long drought.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials warned 13,000 families living in FEMA trailers since Katrina that they must evacuate if Dean hits the Gulf Coast.

“Today people in Mississippi don’t need to panic, but they need to think,” Barbour said Friday.

Hurricane specialists expect this year’s Atlantic hurricane season — June 1 to Nov. 30 — to be busier than average, with as many as 16 tropical storms, nine of them strengthening into hurricanes. Ten tropical storms developed in the Atlantic last year, but only two made landfall in the United States.