Cars leaving South Padre Island crowd the outgoing side of the bridge as Hurricane Dolly approaches the South Texas coast on Tuesday in Port Isabel, Texas. Dolly is expected to make landfall today.AP photo
McALLEN, Texas — Dolly spun into a hurricane Tuesday, heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border and the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley, where officials feared heavy rains could cause massive flooding and levee breaks.
Dolly was upgraded from a tropical storm Tuesday afternoon, and sustained winds later reached about 80 mph. Some strengthening of the Category 1 storm was forecast before landfall today.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Corpus Christi and in Mexico from Rio San Fernando northward.
In Mexico, Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez said officials planned to evacuate 23,000 people to government shelters in Matamoros, Soto La Marina and San Fernando.
Texas officials urged residents to move away from the Rio Grande levees because if Dolly continues to follow the same path as 1967’s Hurricane Beulah, “the levees are not going to hold that much water,” said Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator Johnny Cavazos.
The first bands of rain began to pass over South Padre Island Tuesday afternoon and the surf continued to get rougher. Intermittent heavy downpours began moving through Brownsville by late afternoon. Forecasters predicted Dolly would dump 15 to 20 inches of rain and bring coastal storm surge flooding of 4 to 6 feet above normal high tide levels.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for areas adjacent to the hurricane zone, and Gov. Rick Perry declared 14 South Texas counties disasters, allowing state resources to be used to send equipment and emergency workers to areas in the storm’s path.
The storm, combined with levees that have deteriorated in the 41 years since Beulah swept up the Rio Grande, pose a major flooding threat to low-lying counties along the border. Beulah spawned more than 100 tornadoes across Texas and dumped 36 inches of rain in some parts of South Texas, killing 58 people and causing more than $1 billion damage.