Erika Churns Toward Texas

Tropical storm Erika satellite photo, Aug. 14, 2003
One month after Hurricane Claudette pounded Texas, hurricane warnings were posted Friday along parts of the coast as fast-moving Tropical Storm Erika churned across the gulf.

The race westward by Erika, which reached tropical storm strength only Thursday, caught Gulf Coast residents by surprise, sending farmers, fishermen and some residents scrambling Friday.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service said that as of Friday evening, Erika was about 185 miles east of Brownsville and moving west near 20 mph, with sustained winds near 60 mph.

Weather service forecaster Jim Campbell said the storm was expected to make landfall in the early morning hours Saturday near the mouth of the Rio Grande, just east of Brownsville.

"It's making the beeline just straight at us," Campbell said.

The storm was expected to come ashore as a hurricane, with 75 mph wind, the minimal strength for hurricanes. Heavy rain, a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet and large battering waves were expected, forecasters said. There was also the possibility of tornadoes.

"I sure don't recall one moving this fast," said Harley Londrie, manager of ZimCo Marine on Port Isabel. He spent Friday morning calling his fleet of 23 boats in from around the gulf.

"It's moving so fast they'll otherwise be right in the middle of it," he said.

Claudette, the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season, hit the mid-Texas coast July 15 with 85-mph wind. Two people were killed by falling trees or limbs, and the storm tore off roofs and flattened trailers.

Brownsville is just north of the Mexican border, farther south than areas hardest-hit by Claudette.

In San Benito, every parking spot was filled and every shopping cart taken at an H.E.B supermarket. Checkout lines stretched into the aisles.

Ralph Rincones, 38, loaded up on canned goods and snacks for the kids. He said he already had flashlights and batteries from stocking up for Claudette, which hit higher along the coast.

"I am going to be boarding up when I get home," he said.

Business owners along the coast also were boarding up and preparing to close early.

Raymond Moreno, manager of Pirate's Landing restaurant on the bay at Port Isabel, said workers were "more or less getting ready," even as tourists continued fishing on the restaurant's piers.

"I thought it was going to scare people away, but people are going out there to fish," he said.

Large recreation vehicles were given an 11 p.m. EDT deadline to cross the causeway that is the only bridge off South Padre Island.

As workers boarded up the windows around her at a tile shop in Port Isabel, Mirna Del Castillo said she was not afraid. "I'm about to be 28 years old," she said. "I remember the big ones — Bertha, Gilbert. It's just rain to me and wind. It's just nature."