CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Tropical Storm Erin's remnants soaked a rain-weary state Thursday, inundating intersections and shutting down freeway ramps ahead of rush hour and killing at least one person as the thunderstorms moved into soggy central Texas.
One person was killed and another was injured when a waterlogged roof collapsed at a storage unit at a Houston grocery store, Houston Fire Chief Omero Longoria said.
Erin came ashore at about 7 a.m. at Copano Bay, about 25 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.
"We're very fortunate. We're always prepared for the worst and we pray that we're wrong," said Corpus Christi Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Hernandez. "For the most part it looks like we dodged a bullet."
In the Atlantic, Hurricane Dean strengthened to a Category 2 storm as it moved closer to islands in the eastern Caribbean, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane warnings were issued for some islands, and a tropical storm watch was issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
At 5 p.m. EDT, the Atlantic season's first hurricane had top sustained winds of 100 mph, up from 90 mph earlier in the day. Dean's center should be near the Lesser Antilles early Friday, forecasters said.
Erin's wind fell to 35 mph, lower than the 39 mph threshold for tropical storms, when it howled ashore.
But it first stopped in Houston, strangling midday traffic with street flooding that stranded dozens of cars. A flash-flood warning remained in effect for the entire area surrounding Houston.
The storm's center moved inland toward the already soggy Hill Country in central Texas at around 15 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The corridor between San Antonio and Austin was facing 3 to 10 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasters said 33 counties were under a flash-flood watch through Friday morning, including the Hill Country, which has been pounded by deadly storms and record rainfall this summer.
So far this year, Corpus Christi has received nearly 33 inches of rain — more than 15 inches above normal. The summer storms poured record rainfall across Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, with floods killing 16 people since mid-June. One July storm dropped 17 inches of rain in 24 hours. It brought Texas out of drought status for the first time in more than a decade.
The weather service said isolated tornadoes were possible Thursday along the middle Texas coast.
The storm did not keep customers away from the Bayside Express convenience store in Seadrift, a fishing town 60 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.
"It's just raining real hard and blowing real hard," clerk Jamie Hartman said Thursday morning. "There's not really any flooding, but I've had some people tell me that saw some trees lifted up."
Erin formed late Tuesday as the fifth depression of the Atlantic hurricane season and was upgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday when its maximum sustained wind speed hit 40 mph.
Gov. Rick Perry ordered emergency vehicles and personnel, including National Guard troops, to the Harlingen and Corpus Christi areas. Shell Oil Co. evacuated 188 people Wednesday from offshore facilities in the storm's path.
Corpus Christi hadn't asked for any evacuations, said Ted Nelson, a city spokesman, and was keeping only a handful of people at the emergency operations center overnight.
Nelson said that with 3 1/2 months left in the season, the storm was "a nice little wake-up call" for people to make sure they are prepared for more severe weather.
Some weren't taking any chances.
"We came out to get as much beach time in as possible," said John Cullison of the Dallas area, who was vacationing with his family and planned to leave southern Texas on Thursday instead of Friday. "After the hurricanes from a few years ago, you have to take it kind of serious."
As Dean became a hurricane, forecasters said early Thursday they were beginning to see an eye form at the storm's center.
At 2 p.m. EDT, Dean's top sustained winds were near 90 mph, up from 75 mph earlier in the day. It remained a Category 1 storm and was centered about 350 miles east of Barbados. It was moving west at around 23 mph and its center should approach the Lesser Antilles on Friday.
About 2 to 5 inches of rain were expected, with mountainous areas getting up to 7 inches.
The Caribbean islands of Dominica and St. Lucia issued hurricane warnings as Dean approached. A hurricane watch was in effect for Martinique, Guadeloupe and its dependencies.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for the islands of Antigua; Barbados; Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Monserrat; Nevis; St. Kitts; and St. Maarten. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Grenada and its dependencies. A warning means storm conditions are expected within 24 hours, a watch means 36 hours.
In the Pacific, Flossie was downgraded from a tropical storm to a depression, a day after sideswiping Hawaii's Big Island with only intermittent rain and moderate winds.
Hurricane specialists expect this year's Atlantic hurricane season — June 1 to Nov. 30 — to be busier than average, with as many as 16 tropical storms, nine of them strengthening into hurricanes. Ten tropical storms developed in the Atlantic last year, but only two made landfall in the United States.