July 23, 2008

Hurricane Set to Hit Texas-Mexico Border

By Rick Jervis and Oren Dorell

The winds of Dolly grew to hurricane force Tuesday and the storm was set to hit the Texas-Mexico border today with heavy rains that could cause serious flooding and levee breaks.

Dolly is expected to hit land this morning around Brownsville, just north of the Mexican border, said Colin McAdie, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was forecast to be the first Atlantic hurricane to hit the USA this year.

Dolly's winds were clocked at 80 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on a five-level scale. It was expected to dump 15 inches of rain in some places, McAdie said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Brownsville to Corpus Christi. Meteorologists also warned of possible tornadoes from the storm.

"It's a fairly large, relatively slow-moving hurricane," McAdie said. "There's always reason to be concerned."

Anticipating flooding, local emergency officials readied boat rescue teams, opened shelters at schools and urged residents in low-lying and coastal neighborhoods to move to higher ground.

No mandatory evacuation was expected, said John Cavazos, a Cameron County emergency management coordinator.

Emergency officials worried that thousands of mostly Mexican illegal immigrants would ignore an evacuation order for fear of deportation.

At 11 p.m. Tuesday, about 400 people had taken refuge in evacuation shelters, Cavazos said. The forecast showed the eye of the storm passing over Brownsville and running along the Rio Grande Valley.

This could threaten "deteriorated levees, which barely held when Hurricane Beulah came through the area 41 years ago," he said.

Chuck Hoskins, Cameron County's deputy emergency management coordinator, said the levees have not been maintained and have been worn down from motorists driving on them.

"If it does rupture and breach the levees, we have some potential problems," he said.

Many across the area didn't seem worried about the coming storm. Workers at Amberjack's Bayside Bar and Grill on South Padre Island boarded the restaurant's windows, but it remained open.

Amberjack's co-owner Lance Mullins said he'll monitor the weather to see whether it turns ugly but plans to stay open. Tuesday was overcast with patches of sun and a strong breeze, he said. "You wouldn't know there was a hurricane out there. ... The people who are here are staying -- and having fun."

Contributing: Doyle Rice and Haya El Nasser in McLean, Va.

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