MATAMOROS, Mexico – Mexican soldiers made a last-minute attempt to rescue people at the mouth of the Rio Grande early Wednesday as Hurricane Dolly's leading edge hit the Gulf coast.
Matamoros spokeswoman Leticia Montalvo said soldiers battled storm-charged waves in an inflatable raft to rescue at least one family trapped in a home at the mouth of the Rio Grande, while others further inland were still refusing to go to government shelters.
"These are people who did not want to leave, and now they are in trouble. We don't have much information," Montalvo said.
Officials also cut electricity to the city of Matamoros, fearing downed power lines could electrocute people. Trees were already being blown down by the storm's winds.
Dolly became a Category 2 hurricane as it neared land. Forecasters warned it could dump up to 15 inches of rain, causing flooding and possibly breaching levees along the Rio Grande. Later Wednesday, as Dolly moved further inland over Texas, it was downgraded to a Category 1 storm.
Under darkening skies, Mexican officials were monitoring the Rio Grande's water levels, which were at 13 feet before the storm hit. Eduardo Perez, spokesman for the Tamaulipas state water commission, said the river could reach 30 feet before overflowing.
Authorities asked local factories to close so that people wouldn't try to get to work in the storm, and most businesses were closed as the storm hit. The few stores still open had shelves largely emptied by people stocking up on food and water.
About 4,800 soldiers and Tamaulipas state civil protection officials patrolled to prevent looting and manned 21 shelters where about 13,000 people had sought refuge. Soldiers were handing out water bottles, hot dogs and refried beans.
Authorities had aimed to evacuate as many as 23,000, but many had refused to leave.
As rain and wind beat against his brick home outside Matamoros, Hector Gonzalez, 21, planned to ride out the storm in the kitchen with his younger brother and parents.
"The hurricane is coming because the trees are really moving," he said early Wednesday.
Gonzalez said he did not plan to go to a shelter, despite the fact his home is only about 25 miles from the ocean. The surrounding fields were already under water.
Maria Lorenzo Agustin, 49, said she wasn't taking any chances after losing her home and other belongings in past hurricanes.
"Last time a hurricane hit, we lost the roof and everything was destroyed inside the house," said Agustin, who was at a Matamoros shelter.
She and her 102-year-old grandmother, Maria Miguel, fled their wooden shack in the fishing community of Higuerilla and spent the night at a convention center-turned-shelter in Matamoros.
"I don't know if my poor house will withstand the rain and wind," Miguel said. "I'm afraid we will lose everything."
Alejandrina Salas, 53, abandoned about 60 chickens at her home in Manos de Leon, but arrived at a Matamoros shelter Tuesday night carrying one bird.
"I love this one a lot," she said.