Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 12:18 UK

Tropical storm lashes Gulf Coast


Forecasters predicted a coastal storm surge of up to 6ft (1.8m) above normal.

Towns and cities near the Mexico-Texas coast are braced for possible floods, as Tropical Storm Dolly dumps up to 20in (51cm) of rain on the region.

The US National Hurricane Center warned flooding was "very likely" in areas of southern Texas and north-east Mexico.

Dolly hit as a hurricane on Wednesday, with winds of up to 100mph (161km/h), before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved inland.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has declared a state of disaster in 14 counties.

Mr Perry, who called up 1,200 National Guard members to help in any emergency caused by the storm, is expected to fly over the affected area on Thursday.

Meanwhile, emergency officials will start to assess the damage caused.

About 5,000 people sought refuge in public shelters overnight in the three Texas counties hit hardest by the storm.

The National Hurricane Center forecast total rainfall of 8-12in (20-30cm) in parts of southern Texas and north-east Mexico, with up to 20in in certain areas.

Levees 'holding'

The hurricane weakened after crossing Texas's South Padre Island on Wednesday afternoon.

The island suffered some of the heaviest damage from the storm, with roofs torn off hotels and homes. The causeway linking the island to the mainland re-opened in the evening.

Map showing projected path of storm

Earlier, mainland residents were urged to move away from levees in case they were breached.

But shortly before its centre came ashore, the storm veered north and away from the flood walls.

"The levees are holding up just fine, there is no indication right now that they are going to crest," Johnny Cavazos, emergency co-ordinator for Cameron County, said.

Based on Dolly's projected path, the US Census Bureau said that about 1.5 million Texans could feel the storm's effects.

Cari Lambrecht, a spokesman for Hidalgo County, Texas, said people in low-lying areas were being encouraged to use public shelters.

"It's so much easier for them to go now instead of us having to pull them out later," she said.

In Mexico, Governor Eugenio Hernandez of the state of Tamaulipas, said 50 neighbourhoods were still in danger from flooding and about 13,000 people had taken refuge in government shelters.

"Strong winds are no longer the problem. Now we have to worry about intense rain in the next 24 hours," Mr Hernandez said.

Officials in the Mexican city of Matamoros told the AFP news agency that high winds brought by Dolly had damaged the main water treatment plant, leaving some 250,000 people without drinking water, while rains had caused widespread flooding.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Shell Oil evacuated workers from oil rigs, but said it did not expect production to be affected.

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