Waves batter Texas beaches as Claudette nears
Surfers, swimmers and oil workers fled the angry waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Monday as Tropical Storm Claudette steamed slowly toward the Texas coast.
High waves pounded the state's usually tranquil beaches ahead of the storm, which had sustained winds of 65 mph (104 kph) but could strengthen to reach hurricane status of 74 mph (118 kph) before its expected landfall on Tuesday.
Police and the U.S. Coast Guard shut several beaches along the coast and urged people to stay out of the rising surf. A few stubborn surfers stayed on their boards, refusing to give up the chance at 10-foot (3 metre) waves rarely seen in the gulf.
Voluntary evacuations were recommended on Galveston Island, 50 miles (80 km) south of Houston, while out in the gulf major oil companies moved workers from offshore platforms and announced widespread shutdowns of oil and gas production.
Claudette's destination was proving hard for forecasters to predict as it meandered in the gulf.
The storm was dawdling along at 7 miles per hour (11 km), headed north-northwest, with landfall expected near Port O'Connor between Houston and Corpus Christi.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami, which once expected the storm to come ashore in northern Mexico, extended a hurricane warning from Baffin Bay in southern Texas 250 miles (400 km) northeast to High Island east of Galveston.
It also posted a hurricane watch from Baffin Bay south to Brownsville at the U.S.-Mexico border and a tropical storm watch from High Island east to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, near some of the heaviest concentrations of offshore energy fields.
As of 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT), the center said Claudette was located at latitude 27.5, longitude 93.1, or 160 miles (250 km) southeast of Galveston.
Though Claudette was not yet classified a powerful storm, the centre warned of tides up to 5 feet (1.5 m) above normal and rains accumulating at up to 8 inches (20 cm).
Its winds must reach 74 mph (118 kph) for Claudette to become a hurricane. Several offshore oil rigs reported winds above that level at stations a few hundred feet (less than a hundred metres) above the water, the hurricane center said.