BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — Humberto, the first hurricane to hit the U.S. in two years, sneaked up on south Texas and Louisiana overnight and crashed ashore yesterday 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 swept 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 wasn’t even a tropical storm until Wednesday afternoon, 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,” Mr. Franklin said.
Humberto made landfall less than 50 miles from where Hurricane Rita hit in 2005, and areas of southwest Louisiana not fully recovered from Rita were bracing for more misery.
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.
In Texas, Jefferson County’s Emergency Operations Center in Beaumont — where winds reached 75 to 80 mph — blacked out said Michael White, the county’s assistant emergency management coordinator. Officials there tracked the storm with laptops.
Along Port Arthur’s refinery row, several plants were idled until power was restored, including ones run by Valero Energy Corp. and Total SA, with a combined capacity of 565,000 barrels of crude oil and liquid hydrocarbons a day, spokesmen for the companies said.
One man died in southeast Texas when the carport at his home collapsed on him, Bridge City Police Chief Steve Faircloth said.
The highest rainfall in Texas was on the Bolivar Peninsula of Galveston Island, which got 6½ inches of rain, the National Weather Service said. The storm had been expected to dump up to 10 inches of rain.
Gov. Rick Perry declared Jefferson, Orange and Galveston counties disaster areas. In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency.
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 U.S. hurricane after Katrina and Andrew.