Threat of Flooding Persists After Dolly Downgrades to Tropical Storm

July 25, 2008

Hurricane Dolly barreled into South Texas on Wednesday, July 23 lashing the coast with winds up to 100 mph (161 kph) and dumping heavy rain that flooded some low-lying areas but spared levees along the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley.

Authorities had feared the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since last September could produce up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain in some areas, possibly breaching levees in the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley. But shortly before its center came ashore, the Category 2 storm meandered 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of the border, veering away from the flood walls.

“We’re not experiencing any issues with the levees right now,” said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission. “The water is just not high enough. We are not experiencing flood conditions (on the Rio Grande).”

Dolly was downgraded to a tropical storm and authorities in Texas and Mexico were watching for flooding. About 5,000 people went to public shelters in three Texas counties hit hardest by the storm. More were expected as night fell and at least 50,000 customers were left without power.

Roads and yards were strewn with toppled trees, fences, power poles and streetlights. Business signs rolled around the streets like tumbleweeds. The causeway linking the island to the mainland was closed for hours but was reopened late Wednesday.

As Dolly approached, oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico evacuated workers from 62 production platforms and eight rigs, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which monitors offshore activity.

Shell Oil, which didn’t expect production to be affected by the evacuations, also secured wells and shut down operations in the Rio Grande Valley, where it primarily deals in natural gas.

The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was the fast-forming Humberto, which came ashore in South Texas last September. Dolly is the 26th hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. in July since record keeping started in 1851, according to federal researchers.

The busiest part of the Atlantic hurricane season is usually in August and September. So far this year, there have been four named storms, two of which became hurricanes. Federal forecasters predict a total of 12 to 16 named storms and six to nine hurricanes this season.

Associated Press writers Elizabeth White in Harlingen; John Porretto in Houston; John Pain in Miami; Stephanie Garlow in Washington; April Castro in Austin; Mark Walsh in Matamoros, Mexico; Jaime Zea in Mexico City; Regina L. Burns in Dallas and video journalist Rich Matthews on South Padre Island contributed to this report.

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