Humberto's Havoc

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

BEAUMONT, Texas — Humberto, the first hurricane to hit the U.S. in two years, sneaked up on south Texas and Louisiana overnight and crashed ashore Thursday with heavy rains and 80 mph winds, killing at least one person.

The system rapidly became a Category 1 hurricane, then weakened to a tropical storm by midmorning and bore into central Louisiana. Roads were flooded and power was knocked out, but the greatest concern was heavy rain falling in areas already inundated by a wet summer.

Humberto didn't exist until late Wednesday afternoon, and wasn't even a tropical storm until almost midday, strengthening from a tropical depression with 35 mph winds to a hurricane with 85 mph winds in just 18 hours, senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

"To put this development in perspective — no tropical cyclone in the historical record has ever reached this intensity at a faster rate near landfall. It would be nice to know, someday, why this happened," Franklin said.

Edward Petty, 50, was clearing debris in front of his Beaumont home and said he was surprised by the quick turn.

"It was amazing to go to sleep to a tropical storm and wake up to a hurricane," he said. "What are you going to do? You couldn't get up and drive away. You couldn't run for it. You just have to hunker down."

Humberto made landfall less than 50 miles from where Hurricane Rita did in 2005, and areas of southwest Louisiana not fully recovered from Rita were bracing for more misery.

"I'm in a FEMA trailer (because of Rita) and I'm on oxygen," said Albertha Garrett, 70, who spent the night at a shelter in the Lake Charles Civic Center. "I had to come to the civic center just in case the lights would go out, because I'm alone and I'm handicapped."

The Category 1 storm struck about 5 miles east of High Island, near the eastern tip of the Texas coast.

About 100,000 customers were without power in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Entergy Texas spokeswoman Debi Derrick said. In Louisiana, the storm flooded highways and knocked out power to about 13,000 homes and businesses.

One location blacked out in Texas was Jefferson County's Emergency Operations Center in Beaumont, where wind speeds of 75 to 80 mph were noted, said Michael White, the county's assistant emergency management coordinator. Officials there tracked the storm with laptops.

Valero Energy Corp. and Shell Oil Co. said a power outage shut down Valero's 325,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Port Arthur, and the Motiva Port Arthur Refinery.

One man died in southeast Texas when the carport at his home collapsed on him, Bridge City Police Chief Steve Faircloth said. The town is between Port Arthur and Orange.

The Beaumont Enterprise reported that in High Island, the storm ripped the roof off a grocery store and toppled the scoreboard and clusters of lights at the football stadium.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were discontinued for the Texas and Louisiana coasts by midmorning. At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of Humberto was about 75 miles west-northwest of Lafayette, La. It was moving toward the north-northeast near 12 mph.

Up to 8 inches of rain was expected, causing some flooding.

Gov. Rick Perry activated 50 military vehicles with 200 soldiers, plus a half-dozen helicopters and two swift-water rescue teams. Other crews from the Coast Guard were on standby.

"Some areas of our state remain saturated by summer floods, and many communities in this storm's projected path are at high risk of dangerous flash flooding," Perry said.

In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency. Calcasieu and Vermilion parishes had shelters on standby. Vermilion also was making sandbags and sand available, said Mark Smith, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Last month, at least six deaths were blamed on Tropical Storm Erin, which dropped nearly a foot of rain in parts of Texas.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison soaked Houston with 20 inches of rain in eight hours. About two dozen people died and damage was estimated at $5 billion.

Humberto is the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since Category 3 Wilma ripped through the Miami area in October 2005. The damage it inflicted made Wilma the third-most expensive hurricane in the nation's history after Katrina and Andrew.

Another tropical depression was far in the open Atlantic on Thursday morning, about 930 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. It had maximum sustained winds near 35 mph, and forecasters said it could grow into a tropical storm in the next day.


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