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Hurricane Alex churns toward Mexico, Texas coasts

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Hurricane Alex churned westward
through the Gulf of Mexico early Wednesday, far from oil spill
cleanup efforts but on a collision course with Mexico and the
southern Texas coastline.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami upgraded the storm to a
Category 1 hurricane - the least powerful type - shortly before 10
p.m. CDT Tuesday after measuring sustained winds of 75 mph. Alex
became the first June hurricane in the Atlantic since 1995, the
center said.

Texas residents had been preparing for the storm for days,
readying their homes and businesses and stocking up on household
essentials. But the storm was expected to deal only a glancing blow
to the state and to make landfall Wednesday evening south of
Matamoros, Mexico, and some 100 miles south of Brownsville.

The storm was expected to pack winds of at least 90 mph when it
comes ashore, but wasn't expected to become one of the more
powerful categories of hurricane.

As of 7 a.m. CDT Wednesday, Alex was 220 miles southeast of
Brownsville moving west-northwest at about 7 mph, with maximum
sustained winds near 80 mph.

Coastal residents and vacationers looking forward to the Fourth
of July weekend began preparing in earnest Tuesday for the storm.

Oil rigs and platforms in the path of the storm's outer bands
were evacuated, and President Barack Obama issued a pre-emptive
federal disaster declaration for southern Texas counties late
Tuesday.

The three oil rigs and 28 platforms evacuated are not part of
the Gulf oil spill response. Alex is projected to stay far away
from the spill zone and not effect recovery efforts, but tall waves
kicked up by the farthest reaches of Alex did toss oil-soaking boom
around the water.

Texas also watched Alex's outer bands warily. Alex was expected
to bring torrential rains to a Rio Grande delta region that is ill
suited - both economically and geographically - to handle it.

Passing showers Tuesday quickly pooled along parts of downtown
streets in Brownsville and Matamoros, a worrisome sign with Alex
expected to dump eight to 12 inches of rain in the region and as
much as 20 inches in isolated areas.

In Matamoros, cab driver Alfonso Lopez said he worried that that
people would wait until the last minute to take the storm
seriously.

"A lot of people trust too much that it won't be very bad or it
will change course," he said.

In Cameron County, one of the poorest areas of the U.S. and
Texas' southernmost point, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said he
would wait to make his city's emergency declaration in part because
the city is cash strapped and he did not want to start paying city
workers extra before absolutely necessary.

On nearby South Padre Island, the mood was less anxious.
Although hotels and restaurants looked deserted compared to the
crush of vacationers who normally pack the popular vacation spot in
the summer, those who stuck around didn't size up Alex as much of a
threat.

One couple renewed their wedding vows on the beach as a few
campers rumbled their trailers - reluctantly - out of the park
hours before a mandatory evacuation deadline.

"It's June. It's too soon for hurricanes," said Gloria Santos,
of Edinburgh, after hitching her trailer back to her truck.

Jerry Wilson, 50, also didn't think much of Alex while
struggling to hoist a painter's pole in fierce gusts. With a cloth
rigged to the top of the pole, Wilson was cleaning his 10 cameras
across the island that will let Internet viewers watch Alex's
arrival live online.

"We got two generators and lots of guns and ammo, so we're not
worried about it," Wilson said.

The National Weather Service said a hurricane warning was in
effect Tuesday for Cameron, Willacy and Kenedy counties. The
coastal warning covered Baffin Bay and 100 miles south to the mouth
of the Rio Grande.

In Matamoros, government workers stuck duct-tape in X's across
the windows Tuesday of the immigration office at the main downtown
bridge. Trucks cruised slowly down residential streets, replacing
people's large drinking water jugs and cars packed supermarket
parking lots.

Matamoros Civil Protection Director Saul Hernandez said they
would begin evacuating about 2,500 people from coastal areas east
of the city Wednesday morning. But Hernandez said his real concern
was the 13,000 families in 95 of the city's low-lying colonias,
unincorporated areas where residents frequently have no public
utilities or city services.

He urged residents to make their own preparations to ride out
the storm.

"This is where we live," he said. "We have to confront it."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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