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Hurricane Claudette barrels into Texas coast

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 16, 2003

PALACIOS, Texas - Hurricane Claudette sloshed ashore on the Texas Gulf Coast on Tuesday, peeling off roofs, knocking out power and flooding low-lying areas before its whistling wind began to let up.

No serious injuries were reported along the 350-mile Texas coast, but the Coast Guard had to rescue two men whose 92-foot shrimp boat sank.

Claudette became a hurricane, the first of the Atlantic storm season, early Tuesday when sustained wind around its eye reached 74 mph. By the time it hit land at midday, its sustained winds topped 80 mph and gusts of 88 mph were recorded at Wadsworth, site of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant.

"The windows are flexing, it's howling and I'm wondering what . . . I'm doing here," Ed Conaway said at the power plant, just north of where Claudette's eye made landfall.

Officials had urged residents to evacuate Calhoun County, and many people heeded the warning overnight. Almost all businesses were shuttered and few cars were on the roads. But some residents stayed behind to look after their homes.

An Air Force hurricane hunter plane recorded wind of almost 98 mph northeast of the storm's eye just before landfall, according to the National Hurricane Center, which estimated sustained wind likely was 86 mph when Claudette crossed the coastline.

Claudette began losing its punch after reaching Texas and was downgraded late Tuesday afternoon to a tropical storm, with sustained wind down to 70 mph.

Alerts along a 130-mile stretch of coast from Port Aransas to Freeport were reduced to tropical storm warnings, and all other weather warnings for the Texas coast were discontinued.

Gov. Rick Perry signed a disaster relief proclamation to help speed state and federal response and authorized the National Guard to help with rescue and recovery.

During the storm, Gary Lawrence watched as the wind toppled the roof over gasoline pumps at the Shell Food Mart where he works just east of Carancahua Bay, between Palacios and Port Lavaca.

"It was real gradual then it went down," he said, speaking through the store's broken front window. "Then a little while later something else flew in and broke the window."

Palacios, a fishing community of 4,500 bordered by rice fields and grazing pastures, was without power Tuesday. The roof at the municipal airport was damaged and a shed covering golf carts at a golf course blew apart, some of its sheet metal wrapping around a palm tree.

At Bayfront RV Park, on the shore of Matagorda Bay, three trailers were flattened and others were overturned. Nobody was inside, said Jack Linney, who was securing his boat nearby.

"We've got a lot of cleanup to do," Matagorda County Judge Greg Westmoreland said.

Cars were overturned at Sargent and Surfside Beach, and stairways on the beachfront homes built on stilts had been swept away by the waves and tidal surge.

Oil and natural gas companies quickly began sending hundreds of workers back out to Gulf of Mexico production platforms and drilling rigs that had been evacuated as the storm plowed across the huge basin.

Claudette developed a week ago in the Caribbean, brushing Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula before entering the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the first hurricane to strike Texas since 1999, when Bret slammed into a largely unpopulated stretch between Corpus Christi and Brownsville.

"This is the first real storm we've had in probably 10 years," resident Chris Mapp said.

- Information from Cox News Service was used in this report.

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