HOUSTON Humberto, the first hurricane to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in two years, sneaked up on south Texas and Louisiana overnight and crashed ashore Thursday with heavy rains and 80 mph winds, killing at least one person.
The system weakened to a tropical storm by midmorning and bore into central Louisiana. The greatest concern for many Texas residents was the heavy rain falling in areas already inundated by a wet summer.
Humberto made landfall less than 50 miles from where Hurricane Rita did in 2005, and areas of southwest Louisiana not fully recovered from Rita were bracing for more misery.
I m in a FEMA trailer [because of Rita] and I m on oxygen, said Albertha Garrett, 70, who spent the night at a shelter in the Lake Charles Civic Center. I had to come to the civic center just in case the lights would go out, because I m alone and I m handicapped.
Humberto strengthened from a tropical depression with 35 mph winds to a hurricane with 85 mph winds in just 18 hours, senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
To put this development in perspective no tropical cyclone in the historical record has ever reached this intensity at a faster rate near landfall. It would be nice to know, someday, why this happened, Franklin said.
The Category 1 storm struck about 5 miles east of High Island, near the eastern tip of the Texas coast.
It s a very compact storm, meteorologist Jim Sweeney said. The strongest winds are very close to the center of circulation.
Power was knocked out for most of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Entergy Texas spokeswoman Debi Derrick said. She estimated about 100,000 customers were without power in the immediate wake of the storm.
One location blacked out was Jefferson County s Emergency Operations Center in Beaumont, where wind speeds of 75 to 80 mph were noted, said Michael White, the county s assistant emergency management coordinator. Officials were forced to track the storm with laptops, he said.
Valero Energy Corp. said a power outage shut down its 325,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Port Arthur, but other oil facilities were unaffected.
One man died in east Texas when the carport at his home collapsed on him, Bridge City Police Chief Steve Faircloth said. The town is between Port Arthur and Orange.
A hurricane warning is in effect from east of High Island to Cameron, La., while a tropical storm warning covers a section of Louisiana coast east of there. The storm had been expected to stay a tropical storm but energized into a Category 1 hurricane after midnight.
At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of Humberto was about 75 miles west-northwest of Lafayette. It was moving toward the north-northeast near 12 mph.
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