IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hurricane Alex makes landfall as Category 2

The first Atlantic hurricane of the year came ashore in Mexico near the Texas border late Wednesday, flooding roads, forcing several thousand people to evacuate.
/ Source: news services

The first Atlantic hurricane of the year roared ashore in Mexico near the Texas border late Wednesday, flooding roads, forcing several thousand people to evacuate.

Hurricane Alex had become a Category 2 storm a few hours before landfall and carried 105 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center said. The winds slowed to 100 mph as the storm center reached Soto La Marina, about 110 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. The storm was exepected to dissipate within two days.

Bands of heavy rains inundated roads in the Mexican border city of Matamoros, a worrisome sign with Alex expected to dump as much as 12 inches of rain in the region, with perhaps 20 inches in isolated areas.

Braving horizontal sheets of rain before landfall, Mexican marines went door-to-door in the small fishing community of Playa Bagdad, trying to evacuate villagers from rickety wooden shacks.

At least 50 people were easily persuaded to get aboard buses to shelters, but holdouts could be seen peeking through windows. One man rebuffed the navy's offer and quickly shut his plywood door.

"We're getting out of here, this looks really ugly," said a housewife as she packed belongings into a truck.

In Matamoros, commuters struggled to get to work, and about 2,500 people were being evacuated from coastal areas. Officials were most concerned about 13,000 families in low-lying areas on the outskirts of town where there are few public utilities or city services.

"We need food, we need water, we are getting desperate," said cleaner Rocio Guerra with her three young children in a crowded, muddy Matamoros shelter with overflowing toilets.

One flooded stretch of road nearly kept Mari Ponce from getting to her job at the Mundo Shelter, which was preparing for 800 people evacuated from fishing communities along the coast.

"It's not going to hit us (directly), but Matamoros is a place that really floods," she said.

Government workers stuck duct tape in X's across the windows of the immigration office at the main downtown bridge in Matamoros. Trucks cruised slowly down residential streets carrying large jugs of drinking water and cars packed supermarket parking lots.

Hundreds of people filled a storm shelter in an auditorium in San Fernando, about 50 miles from where Alex made landfall.

"We didn't bring anything but these clothes," said evacuee Carolina Sanchez, 21, motioning to two small plastic bags at her feet, as her 3-year-old sister Belen Sanchez Gonzalez clutched a purple and white stuffed toy poodle at the storm shelter. Her father, a fisherman, was one of many coastal residents who stayed behind to keep watch on their homes and possessions.

In Texas, more than 100 families took shelter in a Brownsville high school.

Sergio Gonzales, 18, arrived with nine other family members after his father decided their house may not survive the flood.

Gonzales didn't agree with his dad.

"I think it's just going to be a normal one," he said.

One man died in Monterrey Wednesday when his house collapsed in heavy rains ahead of Alex's landfall, rescue authorities said.

Alex was far from the oil spill cleanup, but rough seas pushed more of the oil onto Gulf coast beaches and cleanup vessels were sidelined by the hurricane's ripple effects.

Alex had winds of 100 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, and it was the first June hurricane in the Atlantic since 1995, the center said.

Alex's eye made landfall about 110 miles south of Brownsville, the NHC said, and 40 miles north-northeast of La Pesca, Mexico, to the south and west of the BP oil spill. The flat, marshy region is prone to flooding.

South Padre Island evacuations
Texas also watched Alex's outer bands warily. Alex was expected to bring torrential rains to a Rio Grande delta region that is ill suited — economically and geographically — to handle it.

Officials in south Texas readied rescue vehicles, shelters in San Antonio and Laredo and rushed supplies to the Rio Grande Valley. Bob Pinkerton, mayor of South Padre Island, a coastal community where the entire economy rests on tourism, urged residents and visitors to evacuate.

In Cameron County, one of the poorest areas of the U.S. and Texas' southernmost point, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said he would wait to make his city's emergency declaration — in part because the city is cash strapped and he did not want to start paying city workers extra before absolutely necessary.

On nearby South Padre Island, the mood was less anxious. Although hotels and restaurants looked deserted compared to the crush of vacationers who normally pack the popular vacation spot in the summer, those who stuck around didn't size up Alex as much of a threat.

One couple renewed their wedding vows on the beach as a few campers rumbled their trailers — reluctantly — out of the park hours before a mandatory evacuation deadline.

"It's June. It's too soon for hurricanes," said Gloria Santos, of Edinburgh, after hitching her trailer back to her truck.

Jerry Wilson, 50, also didn't think much of Alex, though he struggled in the fierce gusts to hoist a cloth-tipped pole to clean high-mounted cameras across the island that will let Internet viewers watch Alex's arrival live online.

"We got two generators and lots of guns and ammo, so we're not worried about it," Wilson said.

Houston Ship Channel traffic was halted due to rough seas from Alex, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday. Tankers on the channel provide crude oil to eight refineries in Houston and Texas City, Texas. The refineries account for more than 10 percent of U.S. refining capacity.

Some oil disrupted
The National Weather Service said a hurricane warning was in effect Tuesday for Cameron, Willacy and Kenedy counties. The coastal warning covered Baffin Bay and 100 miles south to the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Oil rigs and platforms in the path of the storm's outer bands were evacuated, and President Barack Obama issued a pre-emptive federal disaster declaration for southern Texas counties late Tuesday.

The three oil rigs and 28 platforms evacuated are not part of the Gulf oil spill response.

Hurricane-force winds extended 70 miles from the storm center, the NHC said. Tropical storm forces extended to up to 205 miles.

The storm surge could raise water levels 3 to 5 feet above the ground where it makes landfall, the NHC warned. It also said isolated tornadoes are possible over portions of extreme southern Texas on Wednesday.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 and meteorologists predict an active storm season. Alex is the first June storm in 15 years to gain hurricane strength in the Atlantic.