Heavy rains fell across the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana on Tuesday as tropical storm Nicholas strengthened into a hurricane before making landfall, bringing the threat of widespread flooding, power outages and storm surges.
Nicholas was some 30 kilometres northeast of Matagorda, Texas as of 2 a.m. ET, heading northeast with maximum sustained winds of 120 km/h, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a bulletin early on Tuesday. It made landfall along the Texas coast, the hurricane center said.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared an emergency for Louisiana and ordered federal assistance to supplement local response efforts due to conditions resulting from Nicholas, the White House said.
"It will be a very slow-moving storm across the state of Texas that will linger for several days and drop a tremendous amount of rain," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.
More than 90,000 people in Louisiana and more than 230,000 people in Texas faced outages as of early Tuesday, according to the website PowerOutage.us.
Abbott declared states of emergency in 17 counties and three cities. He said boat and helicopter rescue teams had been deployed or placed on standby.
Nicholas is the second hurricane in recent weeks to threaten the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in August, killing more than two dozen people and devastating communities in Louisiana near New Orleans.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, citing flood warnings, urged the city's roughly 2.3 million residents to stay off streets and highways.
1230 AM CDT 14 September — Hurricane <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nicholas?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Nicholas</a> has made landfall on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula, about 10 miles west-southwest of Sargent Beach, Texas. Maximum sustained winds were 75 MPH with higher gusts at landfall.<br><br>Latest: <a href="https://t.co/t0VkuDIHwk">https://t.co/t0VkuDIHwk</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ymbk7CyUVE">pic.twitter.com/Ymbk7CyUVE</a>
"Take things seriously and prepare," Turner said at a news conference. "This is primarily a rain event and we don't know how much rain we will be getting."
The Houston Independent School District cancelled classes for Tuesday, while dozens of schools across Texas and Louisiana shut down on Monday. Houston suspended light rail and bus services on Monday evening. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed at airports in Corpus Christi and Houston.
Houston, the fourth-most populous U.S. city, was devastated in 2017 when Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, slammed Texas, dropping up to 102 centimetres of rain in some sections and killing more than 100 people.
National Weather Service models forecast rainfall totals from Nicholas up to 40 centimetres for coastal parts of Texas, reaching 50 centimetres in some isolated areas. As the hurricane moves northeast, it was expected to pummel parts of south central Louisiana and southern Mississippi with up to 25 centimetres of rain.
The National Weather Service issued storm surge, flood and tropical storm warnings and watches throughout the region, calling it a "life-threatening situation."
"We want to make sure that no one is caught off guard by this storm," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news briefing on Monday.
Edwards warned that drainage systems still clogged with debris from Ida and other storms might be deluged by the heavy rain, triggering flash floods.
Nicholas could also knock out electricity and hamper restoration efforts as more than 119,000 homes and businesses remain without power from Ida, he said.
Royal Dutch Shell on Monday began evacuating staff from a U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil platform and other firms began preparing for hurricane-force winds.
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