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Hurricane Claudette blows through Texas

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

PALACIOS, Texas -- Hurricane Claudette sloshed ashore on the Texas Gulf Coast on Tuesday, barely at hurricane strength but still powerful enough to peel off roofs, knock out power and flood low-lying areas.

No serious injuries were reported along the 350-mile Texas coast, but the Coast Guard had to rescue two men whose 92-foot shrimp boat sank.

Claudette became a hurricane, the first of the Atlantic storm season, early Tuesday when sustained wind around its eye reached 74 mph. By the time it hit land at midday, its sustained wind topped 80 mph and gusts of 88 mph were recorded at Wadsworth, site of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant.

"The windows are flexing, it's howling and I'm wondering what ... I'm doing here," Ed Conaway said at the power plant, just north of where Claudette's eye made landfall.

The storm began losing its punch after it reached Texas, with sustained wind down to 75 mph by mid-afternoon. But it is expected to remain a rainmaker as it sweeps west across South Texas and into northern Mexico.

At 2 p.m., Claudette's center was located about 20 miles south-southwest of Victoria, the National Hurricane Center said in Miami. It was moving toward the west-northwest at about 14 mph, and was expected to continue that trend for the next 24 hours.

Gov. Rick Perry signed a disaster relief proclamation to help speed state and federal response and authorized the National Guard to help with rescue and recovery.

During the storm, Gary Lawrence watched as the wind toppled the roof over gasoline pumps at the Shell Food Mart where he works just east of Carancahua Bay, between Palacios and Port Lavaca.

"It was real gradual, then it went down," he said, speaking through the store's broken front window. "Then a little while later something else flew in and broke the window."

Palacios, a fishing community of 4,500 bordered by rice fields and grazing pastures, was without power Tuesday. The roof at the municipal airport was damaged and a shed covering golf carts at a golf course blew apart, some of its sheet metal wrapping around a palm tree.

At Bayfront RV Park, on the shore of Matagorda Bay, three trailers were flattened and two others were overturned. Nobody was inside them, said Jack Linney, who was securing his boat nearby.

"We've got a lot of cleanup to do," Matagorda County Judge Greg Westmoreland said.

Cars were overturned at Sargent and Surfside Beach, and stairways on the beachfront homes built on stilts had been swept away by the waves and tidal surge.

Oil and natural gas companies quickly began sending hundreds of workers back out to Gulf of Mexico production platforms and drilling rigs that had been evacuated as the storm plowed across the huge basin.

Claudette developed a week ago in the Caribbean, brushing Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula before entering the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the first hurricane to strike Texas since 1999, when Bret slammed into a largely unpopulated stretch between Corpus Christi and Brownsville.

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On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov


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