Tropical Storm Erin weakens


Tropical Storm Erin was downgraded to a tropical depression when it made landfall this morning on the Gulf Coast, but flood-weary Texas was still bracing for torrential downpours and flash flooding.

Erin came ashore at about 7 a.m. at Copano Bay, about 25 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.

"We're very fortunate. We're always prepared for the worst and we pray that we're wrong," said Corpus Christi Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Hernandez. "For the most part it looks like we dodged a bullet."

Meanwhile, Hurricane Dean was strengthening in the open Atlantic, and early today, became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.

Erin's winds fell to 35 mph, lower than the 39 mph threshold for tropical storms. The center continued to move to the west-northwest at around 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Inland, the already sodden corridor between San Antonio and Austin was facing up to 4 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service said 33 counties were under a flash flood watch through Friday morning, including the Texas Hill Country, which has been pounded by deadly storms and record rainfall this summer. Rain was supposed to start falling there this afternoon, said Cammye Sims, a weather service meteorologist.

The storm did not keep customers away from the Bayside Express convenience store in Seadrift, a fishing town 60 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, said clerk Jamie Hartman.

"It's just raining real hard and blowing real hard," she said this morning. "There's not really any flooding, but I've had some people tell me that saw some trees lifted up."

Erin formed late Tuesday as the fifth depression of the Atlantic hurricane season and was upgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday when its maximum sustained wind speed hit 40 mph.

Some vacationers in Texas packed up, while others vowed to wait out Erin. Without hurricane status, some people said they wouldn't abandon long-planned trips.

"It's not a hurricane. I ain't worried. If they say don't evacuate, I'm not going to worry about it," said Matt Sandlin of Amarillo, who was on a beach near Corpus Christi with his family Wednesday as the wind whipped up and the horizon darkened with clouds. "Unless I see a shark or whale go flying by, I'm good."

Gov. Rick Perry ordered emergency vehicles and personnel, including National Guard troops, to the Harlingen and Corpus Christi areas.

"Because storms have saturated much of our state this summer, many communities in this storm's projected path are at high risk of dangerous flash flooding," Perry said in a statement.

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos, the top elected official for the state's southernmost county, urged residents to evacuate trailers and mobile homes on South Padre Island.

Corpus Christi hadn't asked for any evacuations, said Ted Nelson, a city spokesman, and was keeping only a handful of people at the emergency operations center overnight.

"We're just advising folks to review their own personal emergency plans and look around your yard and remove any loose items," he said.

Nelson said that with 31/2 months left in the Atlantic hurricane season, the storm was "a nice little wake-up call" for people to make sure they are prepared for more severe weather.

Some weren't taking any chances.

"We came out to get as much beach time in as possible," said John Cullison of the Dallas area, who was vacationing with his family and planned to leave southern Texas today instead of Friday. "After the hurricanes from a few years ago, you have to take it kind of serious."

Isolated tornadoes were possible along the middle Texas Gulf Coast today, the center said.

As Dean became a hurricane, forecasters at the hurricane center said early today they were beginning to see an eye form at the storm's center.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Dean's top sustained winds were 80 mph, up from 75 mph earlier in the day. It remained a Category — storm and was centered about 415 miles east of Barbados. It was moving west near 24 mph and its center should approach the Lesser Antilles on Friday.

About 2 to 5 inches of rain were expected, with mountainous areas getting up to 7 inches.

The Caribbean islands of Dominica and St. Lucia issued hurricane warnings as Dean approached. Hurricane watches were in effect for the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe and its dependencies, Saba and St. Eustaties.

Barbados issued a tropical storm warning, and a tropical storm watch was issued for St. Vincent and St. Maarten. A warning means storm conditions are expected within 24 hours, a watch means 36 hours.

Out in the Gulf, Shell Oil Co. evacuated 188 people from offshore facilities in the path of Tropical Storm Erin.

A series of storms this summer poured record rainfall across Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, with one July storm dropping 17 inches of rain in 24 hours. Flooding was widespread across all three states. It brought Texas out of drought status for the first time in more than a decade. At least 16 deaths have been blamed on flooding since mid-June.

In the Pacific, Flossie was downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, a day after sideswiping Hawaii's Big Island with only intermittent rain and moderate winds.

Hurricane specialists expect this year's Atlantic hurricane season &

June — to Nov. 30 &

to be busier than average, with as many as 16 tropical storms, nine of them strengthening into hurricanes. Ten tropical storms developed in the Atlantic last year, but only two made landfall in the United States.

Associated Press writers Lynn Brezosky in South Padre Island, Texas, and Audrey McAvoy in South Point, Hawaii, contributed to this report.

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