Storm Erika predicted to hit Brownsville, Texas, Saturday; hurricane warnings posted

Friday, August 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ One month after Hurricane Claudette pounded Texas, hurricane warnings were posted Friday along parts of the coast as fast-moving Tropical Storm Erika churned across the gulf.

The race westward by Erika, which reached tropical storm strength only Thursday, caught Gulf Coast residents by surprise, sending farmers, fishermen and some residents scrambling Friday.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service said that at 10 a.m., the storm was 375 miles east of Brownsville and moving to the west around 23 mph, with sustained winds of around 50 mph.

Hurricane warnings were posted for the extreme southern leg of the Texas Gulf Coast and parts of the Mexican coast. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane if its sustained wind reaches 74 mph.

``I sure don't recall one moving this fast,'' said Harley Londrie, manager of ZimCo Marine Inc. on Port Isabel. He spent Friday morning calling his fleet of 23 boats in from around the gulf.

``It's moving so fast they'll otherwise be right in the middle of it,'' he said.

Claudette, the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season, hit the mid-Texas coast July 15, classified as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained wind of 85 mph. At least two people were killed, both by falling trees or limbs, and the storm tore off roofs and flattened trailers.

Erika is predicted to make landfall Saturday morning in the Brownsville area, and winds could reach minimal hurricane strength of 74 mph by then. Heavy rain and storm surges of 3 to 6 feet were expected, forecasters said.

Brownsville is just north of the Mexican border, farther south than areas hardest-hit by Claudette.

Texas Division of Emergency Management officials were meeting Friday morning to develop a hurricane plan, spokesman William Ayres said. He declined to comment further until after that meeting.

Business owners along the coast were preparing to close early and begin boarding up.

Raymond Moreno, manager of Pirate's Landing restaurant on the bay at Port Isabel, said workers were ``more or less getting ready,'' even as tourists continued fishing on the restaurant's piers.

``I thought it was going to scare people away, but people are going out there to fish,'' he said.

Campers at Cameron County's South Padre Island recreational vehicle park were being advised of the storm, with officials warning the predicted high wind would be strong enough to tip trailers over.

The system that became Erika passed over Florida on Wednesday night. It reached tropical storm strength on Thursday over the gulf.

The rainfall threatened to devastate the 35 percent of the remaining cotton harvest still in the fields, said Hollis Sullivan of the General Valley Co-Op Oil Mill.

``You can't do anything if the cotton is wet,'' he said. ``Some of them are out in the fields now picking and stripping.''