Tropical Storm Claudette heads toward Texas, expected to intens

Sunday, July 13, 2003

By Lynn Brezosky ~ The Associated Press

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas -- Tropical Storm Claudette headed for the Texas coast Saturday, with forecasters expecting the sluggish storm system to intensify to hurricane strength before landfall early Tuesday.

As of midday Saturday, the storm was about 410 miles southeast of Brownsville and continuing at 12 mph toward the mouth of the Rio Grande. Maximum sustained winds were 50 mph, with higher gusts.

"It's actually slowing down right now," said Tim Speece, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Brownsville.

Speece said Claudette was expected to stay tropical storm strength through Sunday morning, then gather strength as it moves across the Gulf.

That meant business as usual for most coastal residents.

Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa said he was prepared to set up an emergency staging area if necessary, but had been growing increasingly less concerned as weather reports came in.

"Go get your surf board, that's about all this thing is good for," he said.

The county began warning recreational vehicle owners to evacuate the island on Friday, but pulled the warning later.

Diana Reed was one of few people seen packing her RV to head for the safe haven of the mainland.

"I'm kind of out here and alone," she said of the campsite she's been living in since April. "If the wind picks up, it'd be real bad."

But 56-year-old Mike Behren said he was staying put, and enjoying the waves, which he described as chest-high.

"It's supposed to get bigger as the day goes on, that's what I'm waiting on," he said.

Authorities in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas on the Gulf of Mexico, started preparing shelters Saturday in case the storm intensifies, according to the Mexican government news agency Notimex.

Claudette swept over the tourist resort of Cancun early Friday, battering high-rise hotels with high winds, flooding several streets and closing the international airport for several hours. But life quickly returned to normal.

In Texas, petroleum giant BP evacuated nonessential employees from oil and gas platforms along the Gulf of Mexico, but the company had not shut down production, a spokesman said.

Claudette is the third tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It developed Tuesday in the Caribbean, brushing Jamaica's southern coast with heavy rain and rough surf, battering the Cayman Islands with dangerous waves and above-normal tides and scattering rain over parts of Cuba before arriving in Mexico.

Experts have predicted a busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

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