Texas on alert as Tropical Storm Nicholas upgraded to hurricane

Tropical storm Nicholas has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane as it headed toward making landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast, and was expected to bring heavy rain and floods to coastal areas from Mexico to storm-battered Luisiana.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said top sustained winds reached 75mph (120 km/h). The hurricane was traveling north-northeast at 10mph (17 km/h) and was forecast to pass near Matagorda Bay in the upper Texas Gulf Coast later Monday, then move onshore along the south-east Texas coast into Tuesday evening.

Nicholas was centred roughly 45 millas (75 km) southwest of Freeport, Texas, as of late Monday.

Tropical Storm Nicholas gathered strength on Monday and threatened to blow ashore in Texas as a hurricane that could bring up to 20 inches of rain to parts of the Gulf Coast, including the same area hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and storm-battered Louisiana.

Although the system was expected to generate only a fraction as much rain as Harvey, nearly all of the state’s coastline was under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Texas governor Greg Abbott said authorities placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.

In flood-prone Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive late Monday and early Tuesday could inundate streets homes. Authorities deployed high-water rescue vehicles throughout the city and erected barricades at more than 40 locations that tend to flood, mayor Sylvester Turner said.

“This city is very resilient. We know what we need to do. We know about preparing,” said Turner, referencing four major flood events that have hit the Houston area in recent years, including devastating damage from Harvey, which flooded more than 150,000 homes in the Houston area. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 fallecidos, incluso 36 in the Houston area.

Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asked residents to stay off the roads Monday evening to avoid risking their lives or the lives of first responders who might be called to rescue them from flooded roadways.

“What I need each resident to do is get where you need to be by 6 pm and stay there,” said Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which includes Houston.

The Houston school district, the state’s largest, announced that classes would be canceled Tuesday because of the incoming storm. The weather threat also closed multiple Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites, and forced the cancellation of a Harry Styles concert.

Six to 12in (15 to 30cm) of rain were expected along the middle and upper Texas coast, with isolated maximum amounts of 18in (46 cm) posible.

Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, ahead of the storm’s arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year’s Hurricane Laura and historic flooding. The system was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago.

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