DALLAS MORNING NEWS – Texas spared brunt of storm as Alex ravages Mexico

BROWNSVILLE – Shelters emptied and flooded streets receded Thursday after Hurricane Alex swiped Texas and let the Rio Grande Valley escape with a mostly mild test run barely a month into the Atlantic hurricane season.

Sergio Alvarez shovels seaweed off a boardwalk in South Padre Island, Texas. Gov. Rick Perry urged Texans to be prepared for future storms.

Alex weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday. It made landfall along the Mexican coast Wednesday and drenched much of northeastern Mexico on Thursday, paralyzing the major city of Monterrey. At least two people were killed when dry rivers roared to life and highways turned into rushing streams.

But it spared Texas with little more than soaking thunderstorms.

“It was a great drill,” said Johnny Cavanos, Cameron County’s emergency management coordinator.

No injuries or major damage were reported in Texas, and pumps sucked out high water in only a few remaining areas by Thursday morning. Authorities said low-lying colonias – slapdash unincorporated border communities frequently without public utilities – stood up well to Alex.

The storm dumped 9 to 11 inches of rain in the Brownsville area, and gusts reached nearly 70 mph. A couple of small tornadoes were reported, and a mobile home was overturned.

Alex was the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season and the first storm to reach Category 2 strength in June since Hurricane Alma in 1966.

“While we breathe a sigh of relief for this storm … it’s early in the season,” Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday, urging Texans to heed Alex as a warning. “Before they go back to business as usual, Texans need to take inventory and make sure they’re prepared to handle the next storm – whether that’s setting aside the necessary supplies like food and water, preparing their property to withstand a storm or thinking about an evacuation plan, now is the time to get ready, not when the winds are starting to kick up.”

The causeway to South Padre Island reopened early Thursday, after strong gusts shut down the bridge to the mainland Wednesday. Although the worst of the weather had passed, a tornado watch remained in effect Thursday for most of South Texas.

More than 1,000 people who packed shelters in Hidalgo and Cameron counties nearly all left to return home at daybreak. American Electric Power reported that fewer than 2 percent of customers were without power.

Among the few places where it even looked as if a storm had come through was Olmito, in one of the lowest-lying parts of Cameron County. Shin-high water blocked off some streets.

In Mexico, the story was different. The storm ripped off roofs, caused severe flooding and forced thousands of people to flee coastal fishing villages as it hit land Wednesday evening. Power and telephone service were still down Thursday in several towns and cities.

The storm weakened Thursday as it moved west, but it still caused major problems, such as flooding in Monterrey where two people died.

Schools were closed Thursday in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon states, and officials appealed for people in Monterrey to stay home from all but essential jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Monterrey was also closed.

Crews swept up debris in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville. Emergency officials had to use boats to survey the damage in some neighborhoods.
Paul J. Weber and Christopher Sherman, The Associated Press

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