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Hurricane Alex hits Mexico, avoids oil rigs

Matamoros, Mexico, July 1, 2010

Hurricane Alex hit the Mexican coast south of the US border on Wednesday, flooding towns far inland, but the powerful storm stayed clear of oil fields to the relief of crude markets.

The Category 2 hurricane hampered efforts to control the massive BP Plc oil spill off the Louisiana coast, and its winds of 105 mph (165 kph) uprooted trees and lashed the port city of Matamoros across from Brownsville, Texas.

Rain from the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic season swamped beaches and streets, while soaked Mexican marines in towns in Tamaulipas state ushered residents into shelters as 10-foot (3-metre)-high waves slammed into the shore.

"We need food, we need water, we are getting desperate," said cleaner Rocio Guerra with her three young children in a crowded, muddy shelter with overflowing toilets in Matamoros.

Alex made landfall on the Tamaulipas coast around 9 pm (0200 GMT on Thursday), the US National Hurricane Center said. Its rains had already flooded highways as far inland as the industrial city of Monterrey, and the center warned of isolated tornadoes in south Texas.

One man died in Monterrey on Wednesday when his house collapsed in the heavy rains, rescue authorities said. Alex killed a dozen people in Central America over the weekend.

Families boarded up homes, and Texan authorities urged people to leave beach towns as strong winds tipped over trailers and bands of intense rain pounded the area.

Alex has forced oil and gas companies to cut back production, but the hurricane path was well southwest of major US offshore facilities.

Oil prices have fallen since Friday as Alex's path churned away from US oil fields, but energy companies still shut down production of more than 421,000 barrels per day of oil, about a quarter of the Gulf's output, as a precaution.

They have also shut 919 million cubic feet per day of gas output, some 14 percent of the Gulf's total."

Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex has kept its oil platforms, which are farther south in the Gulf, operating since Alex formed, and the government on Wednesday reopened the Gulf ports of Cayo Arcas and Dos Bocas, which ship about 80 per cent of Mexico's crude exports, as Alex moved on. The ports had been closed since Sunday.

Oil cleanup hampered

Despite 7-foot (2.1-metre) seas and winds gusting to 25 mph (40 kmph) at the site of the BP leak, crews continued to capture oil and drill relief wells. Efforts to burn off and skim spilled oil and spray dispersants were suspended. Officials said oil capturing and drilling would have to stop if the winds reach 46 mph (74 kmph).

Houston Ship Channel traffic was halted due to rough seas from Alex, the US Coast Guard said. Tankers on the channel provide crude oil to eight refineries in Houston and Texas City, Texas. The refineries account for more than 10 per cent of US refining capacity.

Forecasters expect Alex to drench Tamaulipas and southern Texas with 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain and drive dangerous storm surges along the coast.

Texas Governor Rick Perry authorized deploying up to 2,500 state military personnel to help with storm preparation and response. Transport officials in the Rio Grande Valley monitored evacuation routes and storm shelters, and mobile feeding canteens and kitchens were prepared.

A hurricane warning was issued for the coast of Texas south of Baffin Bay down to the mouth of the Rio Grande, and along the coast of Mexico to La Cruz. A tropical storm warning extended down to Cabo Rojo, south of the port city of Tampico.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 and meteorologists predict an active season this year. Alex is the first June storm in 15 years to gain hurricane strength in the Atlantic. – Reuters




Tags: Hurricane | Mexico | spill | Alex | oil rigs | Cleanup | US border |

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