Hurricane Weakens, but Dumps Rain
RIVIERA, Texas (AP) _ A blustery shadow of its former self, Hurricane Bret plodded across a sparsely populated swath of southern Texas today after riding ashore with less might than forecasters had feared.
The storm, the biggest hurricane to strike Texas in nearly 20 years, continued to drench the region with thunderous squalls, but no injuries were reported since Bret made landfall about 6 p.m. Sunday in sparsely populated Kenedy County.
Up to 25 inches of rain had fallen in some areas by early today and flooding was expected, the National Weather Service said. There was still a chance of isolated tornadoes.
Some buildings lost their roofs to the storm winds in Falfurrias, a town about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi, but the damage had not been assessed early this morning, said police Officer Max Longoria.
Power outages were reported from the state’s southern tip near Brownsville and McAllen to the counties surrounding Corpus Christi, said Jessica Mahaffey, spokeswoman for Central Power and Light Co. in Corpus Christi. The company serves much of South Texas.
``The winds are still howling out there,″ Ms. Mahaffey said. Repair crews have been working as wind conditions permit, and would be joined by others today, she said.
Workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of Public Safety prepared this morning to move into the storm-blown areas.
``At first daylight, there will be preliminary damage assessment teams that will go into the area and begin to inspect the damage,″ FEMA spokesman Brad Craine said today.
As of 7 a.m. EDT today, Bret remained a Category 1 hurricane _ the weakest of five possible strengths _ with 80 mph winds. The former Category 4 storm made landfall with winds blowing at 125 mph.
On Sunday, Bret unleashed its power on the deserted Padre Island National Seashore, 70 miles south of Corpus Christi, before continuing into desolate, sparsely populated ranch land.
This morning, the center of Bret moved across rural southern Texas, going northwest toward Mexico at 5 mph. Hurricane warnings along the coast were downgraded to tropical storm warnings.
Thousands of residents from Brownsville to Corpus Christi had fled north and west as the hurricane approached. Windows throughout the region were taped and boarded in anticipation of the worst storm since Hurricane Allen, another Category 4 storm that struck roughly the same area in 1980, causing $55 million in damage.
``I think it was overpublicized,″ said Ralph Huff, who defied conventional wisdom _ and an evacuation order _ and stayed in his cinder block home overlooking Baffin Bay, just east of this small agricultural town. His phone and power were still working late Sunday.
Despite the storm’s center passing less than 10 miles to the south, ``there wasn’t even any storm surge,″ he said.
The 125 mph winds, with gusts blowing even higher, extended 40 miles out from the storm when it first hit land. Forecasters feared possible tornadoes, a foot or more of rain and a storm surge that could approach 10 to 15 feet as it moved over land.
Before the tightly-focused storm made land, National Weather Service forecaster Jim Hoke said it had ``clear potential of producing major disaster.″ He compared the storm to Hurricane Andrew, which battered Florida in 1992.
As Bret arrived, whitecaps crashed into Corpus Christi’s seawall and palm trees along the cost bent and frayed with the gusts. A few surfers in Corpus Christi even took to the storm-fed waves.
For those who fled, shelters were set up inland in San Antonio, and hotels offered discounts for evacuees with proof of residence.
A few stragglers stayed behind on the Padre and Mustang barrier islands after all access to the mainland was severed. The incoming storm, coupled with high tide, threatened to cause coastal flooding.
Gov. George W. Bush said he would sign disaster proclamations for seven counties: Aransas, San Patricio, Kenedy, Cameron, Willacy, Nueces and Kleberg.
President Clinton issued a major disaster declaration Sunday night for the seven counties, freeing funds to help local governments with emergency supplies and debris removal, said FEMA Director James Lee Witt.
Texas hadn’t been hit by a hurricane since Hurricane Jerry killed three people in October 1989. However, the state’s 367-mile-long coast has been struck by tropical storms since then, including Charley, which dumped 18 inches of rain and killed 19 people after it moved inland in August 1998.
Bret initially had been expected to head for Mexico’s northern coast. But after the storm turned toward southern Texas, Mexico got little more than strong wind and warm rain.