- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hurricane Dolly churned over the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday toward the US-Mexican border, forcing thousands in Mexico to evacuate as US oil rigs put staff ashore and the US Navy sheltered aircraft.

Packing sustained winds of 130 kilometers (80 miles) per hour, the second hurricane of the season was about 175 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of the Texas border town of Brownsville, the US National Hurricane Center said.

The storm was moving northwest at 15 kph (9 mph), the center said at 0300 GMT.

“On the forecast track the center of Dolly will be along the coast near the Texas/Mexico border around midday Wednesday,” it added, warning that “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

Authorities had issued a hurricane warning effect for the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Corpus Christi and for the northeastern coast of Mexico from Rio San Fernando northward to the US border.

“It’s not going to be a picnic on Padre Island,” NHC director Bill Read told CNN, referring to the long, narrow barrier island along the Texas coast that is dotted with resort communities.

“Some additional strengthening is expected prior to landfall,” the NCH said.

A category one storm is the lowest rating in the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, but the center predicted 15 to 25 centimeters (six to 10 inches) of rain accumulation over south Texas and northeast Mexico in the coming days.

Isolated areas were expected to see as many as 38 centimeters (15 inches) of rain along with massive waves and flooding at the point of impact, the NHC said.

“Coastal storm surge flooding of four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) above normal tide levels along with large and dangerous battering waves can be expected near and to the north of where the center makes landfall,” it added.

“A few tornadoes are possible overnight across the lower and middle Texas coasts.”

The hurricane led to the evacuation of more than 23,000 people from coastal areas in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Governor Eugenio Hernandez said, adding that he had requested the federal government to declare a state of emergency in his jurisdiction.

The US Navy plans to move more than 100 aircraft from its Corpus Christi naval air station, Texas, to other locations in New Mexico and Texas, said US Navy spokeswoman Tamsen Reese.

“The aircraft that do not sortie will be sheltered in hangars”, the lieutenant commander said.

Some, but not all, oil drilling companies evacuated personnel from their offshore rigs as companies waited to see where the storm would make landfall, the Houston Chronicle reported.

US energy major ExxonMobil has started evacuating “non-essential” personnel from some offshore oil production facilities expected to be in Dolly’s path, but the company said there had been limited impact on production thus far.

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell have also moved non-essential staff from their operations in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico.

“The first storm in always gets the adrenaline pumping, and it helps bring everybody into the mind set for hurricane season,” said BP spokesman Tom Mueller, quoted by the Houston Chronicle. Dolly is the season’s first inside the Gulf.

BP has not evacuated workers nor has it halted production in the Gulf, the report said.

Around one quarter of US domestic crude production and 15 percent of natural gas output comes from the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Minerals Management Service.

Texas Governor Rick Perry activated 1,200 National Guard troops and other emergency crews in advance of the storm.

The NHC has forecast an especially active 2008 weather season, saying there could be up to nine hurricanes and 12 tropical storms in the Atlantic region. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through the end of November.

About 35 million people live in the most hurricane-prone US region, the southeastern coastline running from the states of North Carolina to Texas, according to the US Census Bureau.

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