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Erika loses strength as it hits shore

HOUSTON — HOUSTON - Tropical Storm Erika rumbled ashore near the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday but quickly petered out, allowing Gulf Coast residents, still cleaning up from the destruction of last month's powerful Hurricane Claudette, to exhale after days of anxiety.

The storm had been expected to develop into a low-grade hurricane. It might have - but just barely, said Lixion Avila, an official with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The highest recorded winds received by the Hurricane Center were 70 mph, Avila said, short of the 74 mph threshold for a formal hurricane declaration.

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Avila said Gulf Coast residents benefited by Erika's fast, due-west trajectory. Unlike Claudette, which meandered through the gulf for days gathering strength before raking hundreds of miles of Texas shoreline, Erika had been a tropical storm only since Thursday.

Erika passed quickly into the mountains and mesas of northern Mexico after coming ashore south of Brownsville, Texas, weakening the storm almost immediately, Avila said. Claudette, by comparison, wreaked havoc in communities that were surprisingly far from the coast, such as Victoria.

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"If the system had been over the Gulf of Mexico longer, it would have been a powerful hurricane," Avila said. "But once it reached land, it couldn't feed on the power of the gulf anymore."

The storm brought as much as six inches of rain in some areas, and authorities warned that mudslides and small floods were possible this weekend in northern Mexico. They remained particularly concerned about the border region's colonias, self-made shanty towns where basic services often are lacking at best.

The storm brought down trees in the Mexican town of Matamoros. There were scattered power outages on both sides of the border, trees were uprooted and signs were lost.

But as of yesterday evening, confirmed damage from Erika was light, officials said.

That was an immense relief to a Gulf Coast that is still cleaning up from Claudette.

Memories of the hurricane are so fresh that the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster recovery centers - established to assist communities pummeled by that hurricane - were among the public buildings closed to brace for Erika.

Claudette, which came ashore farther north along the central Texas coast, carried 100 mph bursts of wind, killed two people, destroyed almost 150 homes and damaged more than 20,000 others. It caused as much as $100 million in damage.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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