While forecasts say Hurricane Dean will hit northern Mexico, state officials Monday prepared for the possibility that heavy rain from its outer bands could flood parts of the Rio Grande Valley.
The National Guard and search and rescue teams have been mobilized. Shelters were set up in 28 communities. As many as 80,000 barrels of gasoline have been shipped to Rio Grande Valley gas stations.
The state sent six C-130 aircraft to Cameron County in the state’s southern corner in case any critically ill patients needed evacuation from hospitals. About 3,000 buses were on standby for possible evacuations.
Jack Colley, chief of the state’s Division of Emergency Management, said emergency officials were preparing for the worst case scenario: A direct hit on the Rio Grande Valley.
Such a hit “reduces the time line we have to act,” Colley said.
By 8:35 p.m. ET, Dean had become a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 160 mph. It was centered about 210 miles south-southeast of Tulum, the National Hurricane Center said. The eye was expected to strike the Yucatan region early Tuesday.
Category 5 storms are rare; only three have hit the U.S. since records have been kept.
The storm has already killed at least 12 people on its destructive march across the Caribbean.
Cleaning up from Erin
Unlike the devastating hurricanes of 2005, Katrina and Rita, Dean wasn’t expected to swing far enough north to endanger the Gulf of Mexico’s key oil and gas drilling regions, and a drop in oil prices Monday reflected that.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chevron said they would evacuate nonessential personnel from deep water facilities but production would continue at normal levels.
The threat of torrential rainfall from Dean came as parts of Texas were still cleaning up from the flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin. With Dean expected to smash ashore in Mexico, the American Red Cross called off teams that had planned to meet in Little Rock, Ark., to respond to the storm.
Some leaders in Cameron County, however, were cautiously watching the storm.
Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos said he was not ready to lift evacuation orders issued over the weekend.
Cascos had issued a countywide voluntary evacuation and a mandatory evacuation of trailers and recreational vehicles on South Padre Island.
“I’m not going to lift our evacuations ’til we know the storm is continuing out of reach,” he said.