URGENT Hurricane Chantal Lashes Texas Coast
HIGH ISLAND, Texas (AP) _ Chantal, the Atlantic season’s first hurricane, lashed the Gulf Coast today with heavy rain and wind up to 80 mph, forcing thousands to flee inland and frustrating the search for 10 men from a capsized oil rig.
Ten people were plucked by Coast Guard helicopter from two sinking shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico, and a pump was flown through the storm to a fishing boat taking on water 50 miles off Galveston, the Coast Guard said.
On Monday, one man was lost from an oil rig off Grand Isle, La., as the storm moved in.
Chantal ripped off roofs, toppled power lines and sent barrels rolling down streets after moving ashore about 8:15 a.m. near High Island, midway between Galveston and Port Arthur, with winds that just barely qualified as a hurricane.
The hurricane weakened inland and was downgraded to a tropical storm at 10:45 a.m., when the top wind speed dropped to 75 mph. At 11 a.m., Chantal was centered 25 miles northeast of Houston, moving northwest at about 12 mph.
″We had heavy rain with real hard wind. It’s doing a lot of wind damage,″ said Robert Isaacks, an emergency medical technician on High Island.
Tornadoes were likely in Louisiana and Texas, and at least one possible twister was spotted, forecasters said.
The Coast Guard rescued seven people from a sinking shrimp boat near the Sabine Pass station, said station chief Kenneth Compton. ″It was amazing. Flying in 60-knot winds they hoisted five people on one (helicopter),″ Compton said. ″Another helo searched the area and they found the other two.″
Three people were rescued from another shrimp boat in the Gulf, the Coast Guard said.
Ten oil workers were missing off Morgan City, La., after their rig capsized while heading inland Monday to escape the storm. Swells up to 25 feet forced the Coast Guard to call off the search Monday afternoon. Four other workers from the rig were rescued.
Coastal Louisiana and Texas received 5 inches or more of rain Monday and could receive 10 to 15 inches in the next two days, the National Weather Service said. Tides along the upper Texas coast were at 10 feet above normal in places.
At Galveston, 1,000 people were evacuated from an area of the city unprotected by a seawall. But many coastal residents waited out the storm.
″We get worse thunderstorms than this,″ said Betty Barrow, a 28-year resident who remained on High Island. ″People are always casual about these things here. The old-timers don’t worry about these things; they just stay.″
Chantal knocked out power on High Island shortly after 7 a.m., but the few businesses in town remained open, including a grocery where Ms. Barrow was on duty. She said the storm has been good for business as residents stock up on canned goods, bottled water and batteries.
Some residents who waited overnight expecting a later landfall were chased by wind and rising water from their homes on Bolivar Peninsula, which separates Galveston Bay from the Gulf. High Island is a town just north of the peninsula.
Dorothy Wells and her husband, Bubby, left about 5 a.m. and traveled inland to Winnie, where they had breakfast and waited for a room at a motel.
″We boarded up. My husband says we’re not taking it down until September,″ Mrs. Wells said of their home, about 400 feet off the beach.
As Chantal churned across the Gulf, Tropical Storm Dean swirled to life over the Atlantic late Monday. Dean had top sustained winds of 50 mph and was centered about 775 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, moving west at about 17 mph.
Port Arthur Mayor Malcolm Grant asked the 800 residents of Sabine Pass to evacuate the coastal community just west of the Louisiana line, citing the likelihood of high water closing the only highway between the town and Port Arthur.
Evacuation centers were set up in schools in Port Arthur and in Beaumont.
In Orange, just north of Port Arthur, government offices were closed and emergency centers set up. Crews handed out sandbags in low-lying areas.
More than 600 offshore oil workers were brought inland.
Forecasters said the risk of flooding was high because the ground remained saturated from Tropical Storm Allison, which brought heavy rain in late June.
″If they tell us to get out, we get out,″ said Lutie Dyson, 62, who with her husband and about 65 others took shelter in a school in Lake Charles, La.
They were among about 8,500 Cameron Parish residents who evacuated low- lying areas by Monday night. And 2,500 residents left Grand Isle, 70 miles south of New Orleans, for fear the only road to the island community might flood.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November.