Slow-moving Dolly prompts flood fears

Serious flooding feared in Dolly’s wake as some roads are covered; thousands in Texas and Mexico still in shelters waiting for water to drop


"I understand there was a high probability there was significant damage to crops"

—Katherine Kerr, Lutheran Social Services of the South

Residents along the south Texas coast, breathing a sigh of relief after being bashed by 100 mph winds and rain from Hurricane Dolly, braced this weekend for more woes as heavy rains could bring widespread flooding.

Even though Dolly was downgraded to a tropical depression residents in south central Texas and New Mexico feared the worst may still be ahead.

Of particular concern was the fact that Dolly was moving so slowly over land even as it continued to weaken. Its slow pace, allowed it to dump heavy rain across the region, with some areas in south Texas and northeastern Mexico forecast to get as much as 20 inches.

"Dolly is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 Inches with isolated amounts of 20 inches," the National Hurricane Center warned. "These rains are very likely to cause widespread flooding."

The storm also brought the threat of tornadoes and several warnings and watches were issued throughout the day Wednesday and Thursday. There were no confirmed sightings.

Fears that levees on the Rio Grande could be breached proved unfounded as they held.

Dolly was expected to dissipate in strength by Friday.

Faith-based organizations were keeping close tabs on the situation and were preparing to respond if necessary. Some of those organizations, such as The Salvation Army and Texas Baptist Men, were already on the scene providing services.

"This is the time period when everybody is trying to figure out exactly what has happened and what needs to be fixed," said Katherine Kerr, a spokesman with Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, Texas. "At this point it's kind of wait and see."

Communications were reported spotty in some areas, making it difficult for agencies to know exactly how to respond.

"There's that lag that's going to happen in the communications," Kerr said. "Once we get the information from the pastors, then that helps us shape what our response will be."

"We're not going to rush in," added Harvey Howell, a national response team member with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) in San Antonio. "The faith-based community in this disaster is responding locally as necessary and regionally we are prepared to meet unmet needs as they are identified.

"We are still in an emergency response phase and not into a short-term recovery phase at this time," Howell added, noting that PDA, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Episcopalian Diocese out of San Antonio were among the faith-based groups "poised and ready to go."

Kerr said her organization, which is partnered with Farm Aid, was also looking at crop damage caused by the storm and if assistance would be required by farmers.

"We'll be looking at that because . . . I understand there was a high probability there was significant damage to crops," she said.

An UMCOR spokesman said she expected the organization would respond as well.

"We will be responding," the spokesman said. "I know that we will be responding once we get a request (for assistance)."

With electrical service still out, members of the First Presbyterian Church in McAllen were checking on elderly and other at-risk people and moving them to homes of church members who had generators or still had power and air-conditioning, Howell reported.

By Thursday morning, Brownsville has received 7 inches of rain and Corpus Christi was soaked with more than 5 inches.

The heavy rains flooded streets and prompted cancellations of school classes and airline flights. At least 26 of the 32 school districts in Cameron, Starr, Hidalgo and Willacy counties closed. Beaches were closed. The storm also knocked out power to more than 200,000 customers throughout the south Texas area.

High winds downed trees and power lines and blew roofs of buildings. One person was reported injured on South Padre Island.

In Brownsville, at least 50 people had to be rescued from their flooded homes. More rescues were expected to continue Thursday. In Port Isabel, some 200 people were reported evacuated to a shelter in Brownsville. State officials reported that more than 6,000 people were being housed in 33 shelters.

In Mexico, more than 23,000 people were reported evacuated to shelters.

Dolly made landfall Wednesday near South Padre Island as a Category 2 storm. As it moved inland, throughout the day, it continued to weaken and was downgraded to a Category 1, then later to a tropical depression.

It should be emphasized that this will be a long duration event for south Texas due to Dolly's sluggish nature and impacts from Dolly, especially flooding rainfall, will last (for several days)" predicted meteorologist James Wilson of The Weather Channel.

All tropical storm warnings and watches were canceled. However, the flash flood warnings were posted by the National Weather Service for some areas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who mobilized state resources as the storm approached, has asked President Bush for a major disaster declaration for the region. Bush has since approved that request for 15 counties to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

Perry earlier issued a state disaster declaration for the counties of Aransas, Bexar, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Victoria and Willacy.

Perry, along with county, state and federal authorities, planned to survey the Rio Grande Valley area by helicopter on Thursday.

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