TS Edouard headed toward Texas

Published 12:57 pm Monday, August 4, 2008

Tropical Storm Edouard took aim at Texas’ Gulf coast at the height of tourist season Monday, threatening to pick up strength from warm Gulf waters and gain near-hurricane speeds before a projected landfall a day later.

Neighboring southwest Louisiana also braced for the storm, with one parish evacuating homes nearest the Gulf.

Emergency teams were activated as Gulf residents prepared for their second strong storm in two weeks, although Edouard is forecast to hit a different stretch of the Texas coast or Louisiana than Hurricane Dolly did last month.

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Edouard is not forecast to bring the 100-mph winds to Galveston that punished South Padre Island on July 23, but the timing could not be worse: the Texas coast banks on tourism at this time of year, with much of the state baking in 100-degree weather.

“This is not the time of year for anyone along the Texas coast to be interrupted by these storms,” said Dan Quandt, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A lot of people come just to get out of the heat.”

Some of the Gulf’s offshore oil and natural gas drilling platforms sit in the storm’s path. But Edouard is not likely to disrupt production, according to one financial firm that specializes in the energy industry.

“He’ll just be (a) little tropical storm tike compared to big mamma’s that rip things up and spike gas prices,” the Houston-based securities firm Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. said in a note to investors Monday.

Shell Oil Co. said Monday morning it had begun evacuating about 40 workers from some of its operations in the western Gulf. The company said no further evacuations were planned based on the current forecast and that it expected no impact on production.

ExxonMobil Corp. had not evacuated any workers or cut production by Sunday evening, but the company was preparing its platforms for heavy wind and rain and considering whether to evacuate some workers, spokeswoman Margaret Ross said in an e-mail statement.

Rudy Guidry of Grand Isle, on the Louisiana coast south of New Orleans, was on his father’s houseboat Monday morning making it a bit more secure than usual. “We’re on the water right now. Just putting on extra lines in case it comes up,” he said.

In southwest Louisiana, the Cameron Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness called a mandatory evacuation for people who live south of the Intracoastal Waterway and therefore closest to the Gulf. “Probably a couple thousand” people live in the area, down from 5,000 to 6,000 before Hurricane Rita hit in 2005, said Eddie Benoit, assistant director of the office.

“We’re going to set roadblocks up at 5 o’clock (p.m.) and there’ll be limited entrance,” Benoit said.

Edouard was expected to make landfall somewhere in Texas or southwest Louisiana on Tuesday morning. It was moving west near 8 mph, and forecasters said the warm waters of the Gulf provided the right conditions for the storm to intensify and approach hurricane strength with winds of 75 mph or more.

A tropical storm warning was in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi River westward to Port O’Connor in Texas. A hurricane watch was in effect from west of Intracoastal City, La. to Port O’Connor.