- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Hurricane Dolly slammed into the South Texas coast Wednesday with punishing rain and winds of 100 mph, blowing down signs, damaging an apartment complex and knocking out power to thousands before weakening over land.

Local officials’ greatest fear - that the levees holding back the Rio Grande would fail and cause massive flooding - eased when Dolly meandered 35 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border just before coming ashore on South Padre Island as a Category 2 storm. About two hours later, Dolly’s winds slowed to 95 mph, and the storm was downgraded to a Category 1.

“The levees are holding up just fine,” said Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator Johnny Cavazos. “There is no indication right now that they are going to crest.”

Gov. Rick Perry declared 14 South Texas counties disaster areas before the storm began, allowing state resources to be used to send equipment and emergency workers to areas in the storm’s path. The storm defied forecasts that it would swarm the mouth of the Rio Grande, pushing its current upstream and causing massive flooding on both sides of the border.

Most of the destruction was on South Padre Island, a beach resort town on a barrier island off the Texas coast. Part of an apartment complex roof collapsed, and a hotel sign blew off. The causeway linking the island to the mainland was closed.

Forecasters warned of up to 12 inches of rain that could produce flooding in the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley. Up to 20 inches was predicted for isolated areas. Thunderstorms were attributed to Dolly as far away as Houston, 400 miles up the Texas coastline.

As the front edge of the storm passed over the Texas mainland, residents still needed breakfast. The few stores that were open - even without electricity - were doing brisk business before Dolly fully revved up.

“Tienes tortillas?” Jorge Herrera shouted, rushing soaking wet into Johnny’s Grocery and Meat Market 2. His 3-year-old son Michelangelo, sporting a Superman T-shirt and matching underpants, was in tow.

Discovering the tortilla factories had closed before the storm and the store didn’t have any to sell, the Herreras settled for a bag of charcoal, chocolate cookies and two tall cans of beer.

In Mexico, fields were filling with water, palm trees were bent over in the wind and beaches were closed to the public. Mexican soldiers made a last-minute attempt to rescue people at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The soldiers battled storm-charged waves in an inflatable raft to rescue at least one family trapped in their home, while others farther inland were still refusing to go to government shelters, said Matamoros spokeswoman Leticia Montalvo.

In Brownsville, palm trees leaned and small debris was strewn across the all but empty streets. The windows and doors of shops were boarded up with plywood and most businesses were closed. Thousands were without power in Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, as well as South Padre Island. Transformers were popping in downtown Brownsville, utility officials said.

People fled to shelters in towns on both sides of the border, patrolled by local police and National Guard troops.

At Gladys Porter High School, evacuees flowed inside even as Dolly’s wind dismantled a school sign. Principal Dora Sauceda said people were lined up outside when she arrived at 4:30 a.m. The shelter was quickly nearing its 300-person capacity.

Miguel Angel Cruz and his wife, Maria Hernandez, brought their four children to the shelter because they feared the trailer they lived in wouldn’t withstand the wind and a nearby resaca - or pond formed by a bend in the Rio Grande - would flood.

“Yes, we’re scared,” Mr. Cruz, a welder, said in Spanish as his family settled in. “It’s our first hurricane.”

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