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Hurricane Dolly hits South Texas, flooding feared

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Dolly moved inland after tearing into the south Texas coast on Wednesday with 95 mph (150 kph) winds, pouring torrential rain on the U.S.-Mexico border area and threatening floods.

Dolly, the second hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, dropped up to 12 inches of rain in the first few hours after coming ashore at the barrier island of South Padre Island, where it ripped off roofs, bent palm trees in half and left thousands of residents without power.

“My dock has been torn down,” said Russell Stockton, who operates Dolphin Docks, a dolphin-viewing tour company on South Padre Island, a popular tourist resort. “It’s about $50,000 worth of damage so far.”

Just south of the island in the border town of Brownsville, the storm knocked down power lines, uprooted trees and dumped rain on flat-lying marshland, raising concerns about potential flooding. A road linking Brownsville to Port Isabel and South Padre Island was impassable due to flood waters, local authorities said.

“The main hazard from this storm is probably going to be inland flooding,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, official climatologist for the state and a professor at Texas A&M University.

The storm’s leading edge hit South Padre Island as a Category 2 hurricane, the second level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kmh) but quickly fell back to Category 1, the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to dissipate further as it moved inland.

The storm missed most offshore drilling rigs and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

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U.S. crude oil prices rose earlier this week on worries about possible storm damage. But oil prices hit six-week lows on Tuesday, and fell further on Wednesday to below $125 a barrel after the storm barely dented offshore supplies.

The full effect of the flooding might not be seen for days, as rain dumped by Dolly’s inland march flow back down the Rio Grande to coastal areas, Nielsen-Gammon said.

Rain was falling as rapidly as 4 inches per hour and the worst flooding could occur on the Mexican side of the border, he said.

Mexico’s navy said it recovered the body of a fisherman who had gone missing off the Yucatan Peninsula as the storm passed through but no other casualties were immediately reported.

The prospect of heavy rains and a storm surge of sea water pushing back upstream spurred concern that levees holding back the Rio Grande River could be breached, causing widespread flooding.

The National Hurricane Center said Dolly could dump up to 20 inches of rain in South Texas and northeastern Mexico in coming days.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry put 1,200 National Guard troops on alert and issued a disaster declaration for 14 low-lying counties.

In Cameron County near the Mexico border, officials had expected up to 20 inches of rain. “That’s going to do a number on our county,” said Johnny Cavazos, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

He said levees holding back the Rio Grande held under similar conditions during Hurricane Beulah in 1967 but have “seriously deteriorated” since then.

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Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said the storm’s surge of about 3 feet was not enough to breach or overtop the levee system.

“I’m sure we will get through this with minimal damage,” Ahumada said in a telephone interview.

Texas State Police Captain Joe Gonzalez, who heads the combined emergency management system in Brownsville, said he was confident the levees would hold.

More than 27,000 customers were without electricity in South Texas, most of them in Cameron County, according to the power company.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Michael Christie in Miami, Tomas Bravo in Matamoros, Mexico, and Jose Cortazar in Cancun; Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by David Storey and Bill Trott)

For latest U.S. National Hurricane Center reports, see