The wind kicked up at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and four hours later, Hurricane Emily had moved on. But her costly calling card was evident all around this small agricultural community 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. If the structure wasn't made of cinder block or cement, it was lying in heaps of twisted tin and splintered wood.
"The good thing is that no one was injured," said Enrique Garibay, a resident.
But the damage from Emily, which entered Mexico about 75 miles south of the Texas border as a Category 3 hurricane near the fishing village of Playita Carboneras, was bound to be significant. Hundreds of electrical and telephone poles were strewn across highways like so many pickup sticks. Dozens of tractor-trailer trucks lay on their sides, blocking access to some communities in the central portion of the coastal state of Tamaulipas. Huge pieces of tin roof dotted the landscape, and agricultural fields were transformed into overflowing lakes from the torrential rains generated in Emily's 125 mph wake.
"The damage is significant and, fortunately, only material," Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez Flores said during a tour of some of the hardest-hit communities in the state. "At this point, we don't have any reports of accidents involving persons."
By Wednesday afternoon, Emily was 80 miles southeast of the major industrial city of Monterrey and had been downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. But forecasters said torrential rains could still cause chaos in the mountains of northeast Mexico.
"It is going to be a very dangerous situation. We could easily see 15 inches of rain in some mountain areas, and that could cause flash floods and mudslides," Stacy Stewart of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami told the Reuters news agency.
The outer edge of the storm pounded south Texas, producing winds of 60 mph and big waves along South Padre Island. Power outages were sporadic along the Texas coast, and Emily triggered about 10 tornadoes in Texas, most of them near Corpus Christi and Alice. No injuries were reported.
"Essentially, we're looking at a lot of wind damage, a lot of power lines down, some roofs that appear to have been removed and also some minor wall damage, " Remy Garza of the Cameron County, Tex., emergency office told Reuters. "Things could have been much worse."
In Tamaulipas state, at least 17,000 people, most of them from small fishing villages along the coast, were evacuated to shelters. The community of Carboneras was evacuated more than a day before the eye of the hurricane landed there about 6 a.m. Wednesday, said Joel Galvan, the city attorney for San Fernando, a town 30 miles to the west. About 2,600 of San Fernando's residents spent the night in shelters, where they remained by midafternoon as the streets of San Fernando's city center had become murky brown rivers.
"We don't know the extent of the damage yet," Galvan said. "We haven't been able to get out, but we're checking on the shelters and the people."
Even hurricane veterans were surprised by Emily's force. "I have seen lots, but this one is very bad. My little house was flooded with water," said Cristina Santiago, 77, who had sought refuge at a shelter in San Fernando.
On Monday, Emily hit the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico around the resort city of Cancun. Earlier, Emily killed five people in Jamaica and Grenada when it was a Category 4 hurricane. Several people reportedly died in Mexico in incidents indirectly caused by the storm.
Meteorologist Jennifer Pralgo of the Hurricane Center in Miami said Emily was only the second Category 4 storm ever recorded in July, according to Reuters. The first was Dennis, which was blamed for the deaths of 32 people earlier this month. "This is fairly early for them, so it means the oceans are real warm," Pralgo said.