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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 03:37 GMT 04:37 UK

World: Americas

Hurricane Bret batters Texas

Winds could whip up 15-foot waves

The most powerful storm to hit southern Texas in more than 30 years is lashing the coast with horizontal rain driven by winds over 125mph (190kph) and even higher gusts.

The BBC's Peter Greste: "The early impact is less than most people expected"
Hurricane Bret struck the coast at about 1800EDT (2300GMT), midway between the cities of Brownsville and Corpus Christi, the US National Weather Service said on Sunday.

The storm is moving slowly inland some 60 miles (90km) south of Corpus Christi, across sparsely populated farmland. As yet, there are no reports of damage from Kenedy County, which is at the centre of the hurricane.

However, Texas Governor George W Bush declared seven counties a disaster area even before Bret came ashore.

"Disaster comes like a thief in the night sometimes," Governor Bush said.

Residents flee

[ image:  ]
Many residents of areas in north-eastern Mexico and south Texas have spent the weekend preparing for the arrival of the storm.

Businesses and homes have been left boarded up as ecaping traffic clogged roads heading away from the area with lines several miles long. Those who remain have been stocking up on food, fuel and essential items.

Weather experts say Bret's slow progress towards the coast has contributed to its force - the category four hurricane is expected to produce maximum winds of more than 140mph (220kph) and 30cm of rainfall.

The effects on landfall are expected to be

  • uprooted trees
  • power lines brought down
  • major damage to buildings
  • roofs ripped off houses
  • mobile homes destroyed

The last category four storm to hit Texas was Hurricane Carla in 1961, which killed 46 people.

Corpus Christi authorities have called for a general but voluntary evacuation of the city's 300,000 residents and declared a state of disaster.

[ image: Police battle winds on the causeway to Padre Island]
Police battle winds on the causeway to Padre Island
About 2,000 residents and 25,000 tourists at the South Padre Island tourist resort, near Brownsville in Texas, were ordered to evacuate the area by Sunday morning, although most had already rushed to leave for the mainland on Saturday night.

Several Texan prisons were also being evacuated.

Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa warned: "You're not going to live if you stay on the island and the hurricane hits. You're going to drown."

Experts say the danger to Mexico has lessened, although the hurricane still poses the threat of heavy rains on the country's northern-most Gulf coast.

Mexico precautions

BBC's Mexico Correspondent Peter Greste: ''It's a very difficult situation for Mexicans''
Hurricane warnings are still in effect for a 160-mile stretch of Mexico's Gulf coast from Matamoros down to La Pesca. And a hurricane watch extends for another 100 miles south to Tampico.

[ image: Residents left South Padre Island in droves]
Residents left South Padre Island in droves
Rescue services began evacuating residents from Matamoros late on Saturday, according to civil protection director Rolando Garcia.

He said: "We've begun the evacuation of 7,000 residents from coastal areas of Puerto El Mezquital, La Playa and Higuerillas. They will be taken to hostels to prevent injuries."

Shops in Matamoros, a city of 360,000 people, were packed with residents on Saturday stocking up with provisions in preparation for the storm's onslaught.

Tornado fears

In addition to powerful winds, Bret could also spin off destructive tornadoes, drench the region with up to 12 inches of rain and hit the coast with 15ft waves, according to forecasters.

Hurricane force winds extend outwards up to 35 miles from Bret's centre, and tropical storm force winds extend outwards up to 115 miles.

Bret is no longer the only hurricane looming over the Atlantic Ocean. Early on Sunday, Hurricane Cindy was moving west at about 9mph about 590 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands.

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