Hurricane Alex ripped off roofs, flooded streets and forced thousands of people to flee coastal fishing villages today as it pushed into northern Mexico after making landfall as a powerful Category 2 storm.
The Atlantic season’s first hurricane largely spared nearby Texas, which had prepared for a possible direct hit. Although it spawned two tornadoes and caused 1,000 people to be evacuated low-lying areas there, state officials reported no injuries or major damage.
Earlier, Alex whipped up high waves that frustrated oil spill clean-up efforts on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and delivered tar balls and globs of crude on to already soiled beaches.
The storm made landfall on Wednesday night on a relatively unpopulated stretch of coast in Mexico’s northern Tamaulipas state, about 110 miles south of Brownsville, Texas.
The US National Hurricane Centre said Alex was pushing inland at 10mph. Its heavy rains and 110mph winds lashed Mexican fishing villages, whose residents fled inland to the town of San Fernando on buses and in pick-up trucks. Hundreds of people filled a storm shelter in a town auditorium.
Abel Ramirez of San Fernando’s Civil Protection and Fire Department said seven fishing villages, with a combined population of about 5,000, were evacuated.
The storm blew down trees and lifted the tin roofs off several homes, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
“The north winds are still blowing, which means the hurricane hasn’t entirely passed by us yet,” Mr Ramirez said.
The civil defence office in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, said Alex’s rains had already flooded around 30 neighbourhoods there and officials were using small boats to rescue some residents.
Saul Hernandez Bautista, the Matamoros director of civil defence, said Alex had caused flooding and some damage, but with no injuries reported yet the city appeared to have escaped the worst.
In Texas, officials closed the causeway to South Padre Island, a vacation getaway off the coast, and 9ft waves were reported on the island’s beach. But by Wednesday night the National Weather Service had downgraded its warning for the state’s coast from hurricane to tropical storm strength.
More than 1,000 people in low-lying Hidalgo and Cameron counties fled to storm shelters. More than 1,000 homes were without power late on Wednesday, with the biggest outage caused not by the storm but by a car that ran into a utility pole, American Electric Power spokesman Andy Heines said.
The main threat as the hurricane begins to fall apart over land will be tornadoes, which could last another day or two, hurricane centre meteorologist Chris Landsea said.
The other big threat is rain, Mr Landsea said. Parts of Mexico and Texas are expected to get 6in to 12in of rain, which could cause flash flooding further west, away from the coast, he said.
The National Hurricane Centre later said that Hurricane Alex had weakened from a Category 2 to a Category 1 storm as it moved inland over north-east Mexico.
The centre said the storm has sustained winds of 85mph and is expected to weaken as it moves further inland.
The hurricane has been moving north west at about 10mph for the past few hours.