Edouard starts to weaken

August 5, 2008 1:43:53 PM PDT
As expected, Tropical Storm Edouard is starting to weaken as it moves inland toward central Texas. The storm now has sustained winds clocked at 50 miles an hour, down from 65 when it reached shore earlier today. Forecasters say it will likely weaken to a tropical depression by early Wednesday.

Houston's two major airports are operating, with some flight delays. CenterPoint Energy says there were very few customers without power, saying, it's "just like any other thunderstorm."

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm made landfall over a stretch of coast east of Galveston and west of the Louisiana border, between the small coastal town of High Island and Sabine Pass. Though forecasters had feared it could become a hurricane, its sustained winds only reached 65 mph, short of hurricane strength at 74 mph.

Strong winds and horizontal rain were hitting the Bolivar Peninsula, a thin strip of land northeast of Galveston that separates Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The area is dotted with beach houses and patches of trees.

Some homes and businesses in the small peninsula town of Crystal Beach were boarded up early Tuesday and some street lights were out, but there were no apparent signs of serious damage.

In Galveston, a few surfers were in the water and some people were riding bikes alongside the beach as the heavy rains approached.

"We are just out here enjoying it, trying to feel that good breeze that's coming in," said Robert Lemon, 45, of Sweeny, who said he was hoping the storm passed quickly so he could do some fishing.

The storm hit at the height of tourist season in Galveston, but tourism officials said many vacationers had planned to stay in hopes that the area would not be hit as hard as South Padre Island was by Hurricane Dolly on July 23.

Galveston, scene of a 1900 hurricane that killed about 8,000 people, did not order any evacuations ahead of Edouard.

Still, officials in Texas and Louisiana had prepared in advance in case Edouard grew into a hurricane.

Both states mobilized emergency teams, including 1,200 Texas National Guard troops. Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration for 17 Texas counties and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency.

Edouard skirted the Louisiana coast, making for a blustery day in New Orleans but otherwise causing no problems in the hurricane-weary city. The storm raised tides along the coast, pushing water into bayous and some low-lying yards in the Terrebonne Parish communities of Dulac and Chauvin. Terrebonne emergency preparedness director Jerry Richard said only minor damage was reported and no homes were flooded.

In Cameron Parish, bordering Texas, emergency management officials reported some power lines down and minor damage as squall lines passed through. Residents of low-lying areas south of the Intracoastal Waterway in Cameron were ordered to evacuate Monday. It was unclear how soon they would be allowed to return.

Hurricane Audrey killed about 500 people when it struck Cameron in 1957. Since then, parish officials are quick to order evacuations when tropical weather threatens.

Edouard did not bring the 100-mph winds that punished the Texas tourist hotspot of South Padre Island when Hurricane Dolly tore off roofs and knocked down signs last month.

Since Dolly, South Padre has regained electric power but its four biggest full-service hotels remain closed as well as the convention center in the community about 260 miles down the coast from Galveston.

The Texas coast counts on tourism this time of year. About 50 million visitors to the Texas coast spent about $15 billion in 2006.

Edouard did force oil and gas companies in the Gulf to evacuate workers from 23 production platforms and six rigs, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service. The service said there are 717 manned platforms and 125 operating rigs in the Gulf.

Marathon Oil Corp. temporarily shut down a refinery that processes about 76,000 barrels of crude per day in Texas City, about 10 miles north of Galveston.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port temporarily suspended the offloading of tankers in the Gulf but said customers weren't affected because of pipeline deliveries.

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Associated Press Writers John Porretto and Ana Ley in Houston, Regina L. Burns and Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Christopher Sherman in McAllen and Mary Foster in New Orleans contributed to this report.


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