Heavy rains fell off the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Nicholas turned into a hurricane before making landfall, bringing the threat of widespread flooding, power outages and storm surge.
Nicholas was about 30 kilometers northeast of Matagorda, Texas, at 2 a.m. ET, heading northeast with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a bulletin early Tuesday. It made landfall along the Texas coast, the hurricane center said.
US President Joe Biden declared an emergency for Louisiana and ordered federal assistance to supplement local response efforts due to Nicholas’s resulting conditions, the White House said.
“It will be a very slow storm across the state of Texas that will last for several days and will drop an enormous amount of rain,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
More than 90,000 people in Louisiana and more than 230,000 people in Texas faced outages 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 put on hold.
Nicholas is the second hurricane in recent weeks to threaten the US 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 the streets and highways.
1230 AM CDT September 14: Hurricane #Nicholas 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 on landfall.
Latest: https://t.co/t0VkuDIHwk < a href = "https://t.co/Ymbk7CyUVE"> pic.twitter.com/Ymbk7CyUVE
“Take things seriously and get ready,” Turner told a news conference. “This is primarily a rain event and we don’t know how much rain we will get.”
The Houston Independent School District canceled classes for Tuesday, while dozens of schools in Texas and Louisiana closed Monday. Houston suspended bus and light rail services Monday night. Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed at Corpus Christi and Houston airports.
Houston, the fourth most populous city in the US, was devastated in 2017 when Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, hit Texas, dropping up to 102 inches of rain in some sections and killing more than 100 people.
Models from the National Weather Service forecast rainfall totals from Nicholas down to 40 centimeters for coastal parts of Texas, reaching 50 centimeters in some isolated areas. As the hurricane moves northeast, it was expected to hit parts of south central Louisiana and southern Mississippi with up to 10 inches of rain.
The National Weather Service issued warnings and alerts for storm surge, flooding and tropical storms throughout the region, calling it a “life threatening situation.”
“We want to make sure no one is caught off guard by this storm,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference Monday.
Edwards warned that drainage systems still clogged with debris from Ida and other storms could be flooded by heavy rains, causing flash flooding.
Nicholas could also cut power and hamper restoration efforts, as more than 119,000 homes and businesses remain without power from Ida, he said.
Royal Dutch Shell began evacuating personnel from a US oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday and other companies began preparing for hurricane-force winds.