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Claudette slams Texas coast, weakens over land

Hurricane Claudette slammed the Texas coast on Tuesday with high winds and heavy rains, causing widespread damage before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved inland.

india Updated: Jul 16, 2003 10:42 IST

Hurricane Claudette slammed the Texas coast on Tuesday with high winds and heavy rains, causing widespread damage before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved inland.

What had been a slow-moving tropical storm strengthened into a hurricane with 80-mph (128-kph) winds shortly before landfall at midmorning near Matagorda Bay, 80 miles (128 km) southwest of Houston, and struck with surprising fury.

It was the third named storm of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season, but the first hurricane.

From the island city of Galveston to Port O'Connor, 110 miles (176 km) to the southwest, Claudette left a trail of destruction, but no known casualties.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported numerous calls from families seeking rescue as the water rose around them. A Coast Guard helicopter plucked two men from a swamped shrimp boat.

Trees were toppled throughout the region and many buildings damaged from the winds. Utility companies said power had been knocked out to at least 74,000 customers.

The storm's howling winds filled the air with flying debris and tore boats from their moorings. Several homes in the beach town of Surfside, 55 miles (88 km) south of Houston, collapsed.

Rains of more than 8 inches (20 cm), combined with tides 6 feet (2 metres) above normal, caused widespread coastal flooding that panicked many who rode out the storm in their homes.

By Tuesday afternoon, Claudette's winds had dropped to 70 mph (112 kph). The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm and said it would likely be a tropical depression by day's end. A tropical storm's maximum sustained winds range from 39 to 73 mph (63 to 118 kph).

Earlier, energy companies evacuated workers from offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico's vast oil and gas fields and closed production. They said on Tuesday afternoon that workers were going back to the rigs.

An estimated 2.5 billion cubic feet (70 million cubic metres) of gas a day was shut by Claudette, or 18 percent of the gulf's total gas output, said the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

About 330,000 barrels a day of oil, or 21 percent of the gulf's daily production of 1.6 million barrels was shut down, the agency said.

In Port O'Connor, a fishing village on Matagorda Bay, Claudette bent palm trees over, tossed lawn furniture in the air and filled the streets and bay with debris. Barrels could be seen bouncing in the roiling waters.

"Man, it tore this town up. I was scared sitting up in my house listening to it," said longtime resident Evelyn Bossler as she surveyed damage from her front porch.

Port O'Connor was twice leveled by hurricanes, first in 1919 and again in 1961.

At Galveston, Claudette whipped waves over the seawall protecting the city and into nearby streets. Water covered much of the island's unprotected west end, damaging homes and cars.

In a 4 p.m CDT (2100 GMT) advisory, the hurricane center said the storm was 85 miles (136 km) southeast of San Antonio and loping west at 14 mph (22 kph).

Claudette was a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the Saffir-Simpson scale of strength. Those storms pack winds of up to 95 mph (153 kph) and cause minimal damage.

Claudette formed in the Caribbean last week, struck the Mexican beach resort of Cancun, then drifted into the gulf.

First Published: Jul 16, 2003 10:42 IST