URGENT Hurricane Jerry Hits Texas Coast; At Least Two Dead
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) _ Hurricane Jerry roared into the Texas coast Sunday, killing at least two people as it tossed cars and ripped down power lines, balconies and trees in this island city. The storm also spun off tornadoes that inflicted damage along the Gulf Coast.
Jerry’s fury combined with the highest tides of the year to flood coastal areas as thousands of people, mostly in Louisiana, fled to higher ground.
The center of the hurricane moved ashore on the west end of Galveston Island about 7:25 p.m., with sustained winds of 75 mph and gusts up to 100 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla.
In Galveston, a 32-mile long barrier island connected to the mainland by a causeway, officials reported scattered power failures, street flooding and a roof torn off a building, along with numerous downed trees and neon signs.
Late Sunday, the bodies of a man and a small child were found floating near the city’s seawall, said Gary Stone, a spokesman for Galveston’s Emergency Operations Center. He said the victims, who could not be identified immediately, were believed to either passengers in a car that washed over the seawall or pedestrians.
There were no other immediate reports of injuries.
Glass windows in an apartment complex on the island’s west end were blown out, and several balconies were torn off.
″The winds blew threw the glass of several of these apartments and blew the gutters down,″ said John Harsh, a resident of the complex who had been without power since 7:30 p.m. ″Whole balconies came down, it just ripped them up from the bolts.″
At the historic Galvez Hotel, the management said guests would have to spend the night in the lobby because several rooms had broken glass inside.
Houston Lighting & Power spokeswoman Graham Painter said 52,000 customers were without power Sunday night, most of them on Galveston.
The city of 62,000 was the site of one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history, a storm that killed an estimated 6,000 people in 1900. Galveston Island is about 50 miles south of Houston.
By 11 p.m., Jerry was downgraded to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds decreased to 70 mph. The storm’s center was located about 40 miles north of Galveston near Baytown, Texas, or near latitude 29.6 degrees north, longitude 94.6 west.
The storm was moving northeast at 14 mph and was expected to brush past the southeast side of Houston while steadily losing power over land, meteorologists said. Rainfall totals of 3 to 5 inches were expected along the path during the next 12 to 24 hours.
Jerry was considered a category 1 hurricane, the least severe possible. Hurricane Hugo, which devastated Charleston and other parts of South Carolina last month, was a category 4.
″I think that we did very well,″ Galveston Mayor Jan Coggeshall said after the hurricane had passed over the island after a two-hour mauling.
″I think we’re going to find some damage, but I don’t think it’s going to be as significant as it could have been. I think we are going to suffer a lot of erosion on the west end beaches,″ he said.
City leaders said a team of officials would begin surveying damage to the area at 6 a.m. Monday.
As Jerry struck, heavy rains and rising tides moved over the upper Texas coast and were expected to increase over the southwest Louisiana coast, the National Weather Service said.
The hurricane center said the area would receive 4 to 8 inches of rain.
Jerry’s hurricane-strength winds extended 25 miles east of the eye and 15 miles west. That was about 10 times weaker than Hugo, which packed hurricane force winds extending 100 miles out from its center.
″It’s a very small hurricane. I would not expect much damage from it,″ said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center.
″Category 4 is a major disaster and Jerry is a bad day,″ said Jerry Jarrell, deputy director of the center.
Jerry strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane 110 miles off Galveston Island at 1 p.m. when its sustained wind hit 75 mph, or 1 mph above the threshold, according to the National Hurricane Center. During the afternoon, the storm reached 85 mph sustained wind and swung onto a northerly course toward Galveston, the hurricane center said.
The storm surge caused by a combination of Jerry and high tides was not expected to be over eight feet, he said. In comparison, the storm surge in the Charleston, S.C., area from Hugo was up to 20 feet.
Hurricane warnings were posted from Freeport, Texas, to Intracoastal City, La. Tornado watches were issued for southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas.
Several tornadoes were spotted between Galveston and Houston, damaging some buildings. No injuries were immediately reported.
A tornado hit downtown Orange, near the Louisiana border, and several homes and businesses were damaged, police officials said. There were no reports of injuries, police dispatcher Rachel Timaeus said.
Earlier, a funnel cloud was reported near New Orleans.
Galveston City Manager Doug Matthews, who ordered an 11 p.m. curfew, said he believed many of the island city’s residents decided to stay in their homes behind the seawall. He said about 500 residents left their low-lying homes on the island’s west end, which is not protected by the seawall.
Several cars were tossed onto sidewalks and there was a report of one washing over the seawall, but officials did not know if anyone was inside. The wind also blew out the windows of a police car, but the officer was not injured.
Earlier, workers distributed sandbags and barricades to low-lying areas, and residents stocked up on supplies and secured homes and boats.
In Louisiana’s southwestern corner, the Cameron Parish Civil Defense Office ordered coastal areas evacuated, and spokesman Scott Henry said that affected 8,000 to 10,000 people.
″We’re anticipating extremely high tides, plus we’ll be in the storm push for the tidal surge,″ said Henry.
Even without the hurricane, tides were expected to peak this week because of the relative positions of the sun, moon and the Earth.
High tide at Galveston, which arrives around sunset and just before sunrise, is 1 1/2 to 2 feet above sea level. Astronomical tide was expected to add about a foot, and storm surge 4 to 7 feet, forecasters said.
″Our main concern is we only have two or three roads out of the parish,″ said Henry of Cameron Parish. High tides ″could cut off several escapes routes. As night comes, if you hadn’t already got out, it could cause problems.″
An evacuation center was set up by the Red Cross at Lake Charles-Boston High School, but only 48 people had checked in by late Sunday.
″Cameron evacuates four times a year. I don’t think they were worried about this one,″ said Mary Touchette, the center’s manager.
Offshore oil operations pulled hundreds of workers in from the Gulf of Mexico.
Chevron spokesman Jim Lajaunie said Sunday the 250 offshore workers from the company’s base in Amelia, La., were moved to dry land. Mobil Oil spokesman Bill Barnard said about 600 workers were called in in southwestern Louisiana.