Dolly Hits South Texas Coast but Spares Levees

Residents in Brownsville, Texas are picking up the pieces after Tropical Storm Dolly tore through the area. The combination of flooded neighborhoods and downed or low-hanging power lines has emergency officials in Hidalgo County concerned. Video by AP
By Peter Slevin and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 24, 2008

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. July 23 -- Hurricane Dolly slammed into the South Texas coast on Wednesday, bringing 100-mph winds and heavy rain but sparing for now the deteriorating levees that protect more than 1 million residents of the Rio Grande Valley.

Hours after Dolly struck South Padre Island as a Category 2 hurricane, the wind and rain continued to come in torrents as the weakened weather system, downgraded to a tropical storm, meandered slowly northwestward.

Tens of thousands of homes lost power, and scattered flooding in low-lying areas was predicted to intensify in the coming days, with parts of the drought-torn region expected to receive up to 20 inches of rain.

Even so, the path of the storm, which made landfall 35 miles north of the mouth of the Rio Grande, left experts optimistic that the river's levees would remain untested.

"The eye of the storm is passing through the area," Pilar Rodriguez, assistant city manager of McAllen, Tex., said shortly before 9 p.m. Eastern time. "We're experiencing high winds, rain, power failures and flooding. So far, we have not had any major damage."

Rodriguez continued: "We're not having any indications that there is any danger to the river or the levees. The rainfall has not been high enough. It is a concern, but we just need to see how this storm pans out."

The levees were a particular focus of disaster planning because of their age and their spotty maintenance. The U.S. branch of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the American side of the Rio Grande, decertified the levees in 2007, saying they needed $125 million of repairs and strengthening.

Johnny Cavazos, the emergency management coordinator of Cameron County, which includes Brownsville and the town of South Padre Island, said the Rio Grande levees "are holding up just fine," the Associated Press reported.

Farther north, Kleberg County's emergency management coordinator, Tomas R. Sanchez Jr., said his greatest worry was that drivers buffeted by sudden gusts would skid and crash on roads covered with two inches of water.

Dolly's path eased his greater concerns.

"When you go through hurricanes for 20 years, you get to respect them," Sanchez said. "But this one, there's going to be a lot of wind and rain until about 7 o'clock in the morning. And then we'll clean up."

Although the National Hurricane Center downgraded Dolly to a tropical storm last night, it still warned that it was expected to produce eight to 12 inches of rain -- up to 20 inches in some areas.

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