Tropical Storm Hermine crosses into Texas hours after coming ashore in Mexico

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tropical Storm Hermine crosses into Texas

RAYMONDVILLE, Texas — Hermine weakened Tuesday but continued dumping heavy rains on a northern crawl through Texas, barely holding on to tropical storm strength but leaving behind a path of widespread power outages and landslides in Mexico.

Hermine (hur-MEEN’) continued dissolving just south of San Antonio and was expected to be downgraded into a tropical depression later Tuesday. Most of south Texas woke up to few signs that a tropical system had swept through, aside from scattered downed trees and power lines.

As when Hurricane Alex lashed the same flood-prone Rio Grande Valley in June, there was a feeling that Hermine could have been worse. There were no reports of serious injuries, damage or flooding, and authorities ordered no evacuations.

Hermine dumped between 5 inches to a foot of rain after crossing into Texas late Monday. The storm made landfall in northeastern Mexico with winds of up to 65 mph (100 kph), arriving near the same spot as Alex, whose remnants killed at least 12 people in flooding in Mexico.

But unlike Alex, which swiped Texas then plunged southwest into Mexico, Hermine was felt in more places.

“This is going to be much more of a memorable storm than Alex,” National Weather Service meteorologist Joseph Tomaselli said Tuesday.

Raymondville won’t forget Hermine anytime soon. The rural farming town, about 20 miles off the Texas coast, began cleaning up early Tuesday without power after Hermine ripped the roof off a roadside motel occupied by terrified guests who say they fled for safety in the nick of time.

Melanie Tamyl and Roy Tamez were in their second-story room when their ceiling began bowing up and down. They opened the door just in time to watch the awning get peeled back like a lid.

“I told (Melanie) that we’ve got to get out of here right now,” said Tamez, 52. “The whole roof is about to go.”

Tamez and Tamyl helped two other families to evacuate the motel. They returned Tuesday to find half the roof over their room gone and their bedding soaked and soiled with ceiling tile and mud. They picked through soggy clothes and food, salvaging what they could.

As many as 35,000 homes were without power in the Rio Grande Valley early Tuesday, according to an online outage map of American Electric Power, the area’s power utility. A company representative did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Shelters throughout Rio Grande Valley were on standby but mostly kept their doors shut, and offers for sandbags saw relatively few takers.

Flash flood warning remained in effect Tuesday, but officials said first reports only indicated nuisances such as high water on neighborhood streets.

Hermine might have been no Alex in terms of strength, but it wasn’t taken lightly: Mexican emergency officials in Tamaulipas worked to evacuate 3,500 people around Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, and schools on both sides of the border canceled classes Tuesday.

Forecasters said remnants of Hermine will be felt as far north as Oklahoma and Kansas in the coming days.

In Mexico, Hermine brought another unwelcome downpour.

Mexico’s northeast cattle-ranching region is one of the most dangerous hotspots in the country’s bloody turf war between two drug cartels. It is the same area where 72 migrants were killed two weeks ago in what it believed to be the country’s worst drug gang massacre to date.

Mexican emergency officials urged those living in low-lying coastal areas to move to shelters. Classes in Matamoros and several other Mexican towns were canceled, and authorities began releasing water from some dams to make room for expected rains.

In inland Hidalgo state, authorities said heavy rains caused by the passing storm unleashed landslides that damaged 20 homes, left 120 people homeless and cut off small communities.

Tropical storm warnings in Mexico were canceled early Tuesday.

On South Padre Island, Hermine arrived too late to ruin another long weekend at the tourist hotspot. Alex plummeted Fourth of July hotel occupancies to about one-third of the normal rate, but most Labor Day weekend vacationers were already packing up for home by the time Hermine came into the picture.

“It really crept up on us,” said Dan Quandt, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Associated Press Writers Jorde Vargas in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Emilio Lopez in Pachuca, Mexico, and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.

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