Texas coast braces for potential hit by Beryl, which is expected to regain hurricane strength


HOUSTON (AP) — Texas officials Saturday were urging coastal residents to brace for a potential hit by Beryl as the storm is expected to regain hurricane strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“We’re expecting the storm to make landfall somewhere on the Texas coast sometime Monday, if the current forecast is correct,” said Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Should that happen, it’ll most likely be a Category 1 hurricane.”

The earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, Beryl caused at least 11 deaths as it passed through the Caribbean islands earlier in the week. It then battered Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane, toppling trees but causing no injuries or deaths before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved across the Yucatan Peninsula.

“There is an increasing risk of damaging hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge along portions of the lower and middle Texas coast late Sunday into Monday,” the hurricane center said in an advisory Saturday.

Texas officials warned the state's entire coastline to brace for possible flooding, heavy rain and wind as they wait for a more defined path of the storm. The hurricane center has issued hurricane and storm surge watches for the Texas coast from the mouth of the Rio Grande north to San Luis Pass, less than 80 miles south of Houston.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is traveling in Taiwan, issued a pre-emptive disaster declaration for 40 counties.

Some Texas coastal cities called for voluntary evacuations in low-lying areas prone to flooding, banned beach camping and urged tourists traveling on the July 4 holiday weekend to move recreational vehicles from coastal parks.

Mitch Thames, a spokesman for Matagorda County, said Saturday that officials issued a voluntary evacuation request for the coastal areas of the county about 100 miles southwest of Houston to inform the large number of visitors in the area for the holiday weekend.

“You always plan for the worst and hope for the best. I certainly don’t want to ruin the holiday weekend for our visitors. But at the same time, our No. 1 goal is the health and safety of all our visitors and of course our residents. I’m not so much worried about our residents. Those folks that live down there, they’re used to this, they get it,” Thames said.

In Corpus Christi, officials asked visitors to cut their trips short and return home early if possible. Officials asked residents to secure their homes by boarding up windows if necessary and using sandbags to guard against possible flooding.

“We’re taking the storm very serious and we’re asking the community to take the storm very serious as well,” Corpus Christi Fire Chief Brandon Wade said during a Friday evening news conference.

Traffic has been nonstop for the past three days at an Ace Hardware in Corpus Christi as customers buy up tarps, rope, duct tape, sandbags and generators, employee Elizabeth Landry said Saturday.

“They’re just worried about the wind, the rain,” she said. “They’re wanting to prepare just in case.”

Officials in Corpus Christi announced that the city had distributed 10,000 sandbags in less than two hours Friday, exhausting its supply.

On Saturday, Beryl was about 415 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and had top sustained winds of 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph.

Before hitting Mexico and moving into the Gulf, Beryl had already spread destruction in Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados this week. Three people have been reported dead in Grenada, three in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, three in Venezuela and two in Jamaica, officials said.

Mexican authorities had moved some tourists and residents out of low-lying areas around the Yucatan Peninsula before landfall, but tens of thousands remained to tough out the strong winds and storm surge. Much of the area around Tulum is just a few yards (meters) above sea level.

The city was plunged into darkness when the storm knocked out power as it came ashore. Screeching winds set off car alarms across the town. Wind and rain continued to whip the seaside city and surrounding areas Friday morning. Army brigades roved the streets of the tourist city, clearing fallen trees and power lines. No deaths or injuries have been reported.

After seeing Beryl tear through the Caribbean, 37-year-old Lucía Nagera Balcaza was among those who stocked up on food and hid away in their homes.

“Thank god, we woke up this morning and everything was all right,” she said. “The streets are a disaster, but we’re out here cleaning up.”