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Tropical Storm Erika Lashes Northern Mexico

Date: 18-Aug-03
Country: MEXICO
Author: Deborah Tedford

The fast-moving storm struck near the mouth of the Rio Grande, which forms the U.S.-Mexico border, but officials in Matamoros and neighboring Brownsville, Texas said they got only a glancing blow from its 70 mile per hour winds.

"Damage has been at a minimum," said Matamoros health director Ernesto Chanes. "There has not been serious flooding in most of the city."

"Right now, we're looking pretty good," said Brownsville emergency operations director Jeff Johnston.

Rains up to six inches fell close to where Erika's center came ashore south of the two cities, bringing warnings of possible flooding.

High winds knocked out power in parts of both cities.

The streets of Matamoros were littered with broken tree branches and debris, but residents said Erika had been a breeze. "We saw nothing here, well, almost nothing. A little rain and a little wind, but everything is quiet," said Osiel Rubio, a clerk at a downtown convenience store.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said maximum sustained winds had not reached the 74 mph threshold required to become a hurricane and took down hurricane and tropical warnings along the Texas coast.

But it said hurricane warnings were still up from the Rio Grande south to the Mexican coastal town of La Pesca.

As of 8 a.m. CDT, the center of the storm was overland in northeastern Mexico at latitude 25.3 north, longitude 97.6 west, or 45 miles south of Brownsville, the hurricane center said. Erika was moving west at 18 mph.

Tides 2.5 feet above normal had been reported in Port Isabel, Texas near Brownsville, forecasters said.

Storm shelters in Brownsville and Matamoros, which are across the Rio Grande from each other, sat almost empty for much of the night, but people streamed in as the rain and winds picked up, officials said. More than 2,000 had taken refuge in Matamoros, Chanes said.

Erika swept so quickly across the offshore oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico that it had minimal effect on operations, oil companies said.

They evacuated non-essential workers from offshore rigs and closed down small amounts of production.

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