Thousands fled as the outer edge of Hurricane Emily lashed coastal areas around the Texas-Mexico border and its already powerful centre continued to strengthen just offshore.
With sustained winds of 125 mph, Emily was a Category 3 hurricane, but could swell to a Category 4 before its eye makes landfall today, US and Mexican forecasters said.
Heavy rain and winds were menacing north-eastern Mexico, where army trucks roamed the streets collecting evacuees laden with suitcases and rolled-up blankets. In southern Texas, giant waves gobbled up stretches of beach and sent many scrambling for higher ground.
Officials in Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas, said 18,000 people had been evacuated from 20 low-lying, seaside communities – including nearly everyone from Carbonera, a tiny fishing hamlet.
The few residents left last night were indoors, hiding from authorities desperate to move them to safety. Cowering dogs were all that could be found on the streets, while a lone cat sought refuge from the rain in the doorway of an abandoned grocery store – its shelves stripped of food and supplies.
In San Fernando, a 60,000-inhabitant community further inland, life came to a standstill before dusk yesterday and relentless rain left large puddles in the streets.
Most of the restaurants were closed, their windows covered over with plywood.
In southern Texas, campers emptied beachfront parks on South Padre Island and hundreds of other tourists left the area. Residents piled up sandbags to hold back possible floodwaters and boarded up windows of businesses and homes, while officials converted schools into shelters.
Some 150 miles south, in another Mexican community that was evacuated, La Pesca, residents were taken to a naval base on a relatively high point on the edge of town.
Emily’s centre was wobbling erratically early today, but the storm was still moving at about 8mph.
Located just off north Mexico’s eastern tip, the storm was expected to push west at about 10mph during the pre-dawn hours and come ashore around sunrise, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.
The impending landfall would mark the second time Emily has bashed Mexico. It was a Category 4 storm when it slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula on Monday, ripping the roofs off resort hotels and stranding thousands of tourists along the famous Mayan Riviera, which includes the resort of Cancun.
No one was killed and there were no major injuries, according to federal officials surveying ongoing cleanup efforts in that region.
Mexico and US oil companies evacuated workers from offshore oil installations in the northern Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Emily swept toward the US-Mexico border.
Some 16,000 workers were told to return to Mexican installations in the southern Gulf today, after the storm halted production there and forced weekend evacuations.
Emily didn’t appear to have caused any major damage in the southern Gulf, although state-run Petroleos Mexicanos was still surveying the rigs.