(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Barrel brought strong winds and torrential rain to southeast Texas on Monday, killing at least three people, flooding highways, shutting down oil ports, canceling more than 1,000 flights and leaving more than 2.5 million homes. And businesses lost power.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Barrell, the oldest Category 5 hurricane of the season on record, weakened to a hurricane and made landfall in the Texas coastal town of Matagorda, bringing dangerous storm surges and heavy rain into Houston. Weakened before. Conditions could produce tornadoes in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, the agency said.

The storm, which was expected to weaken rapidly as it moved inland, took a destructive path through Jamaica, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines last week. It has killed at least 12 people in the Caribbean and Texas.

In Texas, a 53-year-old man and a 74-year-old woman were killed Monday after trees fell on their homes in the Houston area. A third person drowned, according to local authorities.

Oil refining activity slowed and some production sites in the state, the country’s largest oil producer, were evacuated.

“Dangerous storms and heavy rains continue across parts of Texas. Destructive winds along the coast, with strong winds moving inland,” the NHC said even as the barrel began to lose strength.

After warnings that it could be a deadly storm for communities in its path, residents rushed to board up windows and stock up on fuel and other essentials.

Before dawn, strong winds and torrential rain lashed cities and towns such as Galveston, Sargent, Lake Jackson and Freeport, television footage showed. By late morning, several downed trees blocked roads in Houston as the worst of the storm passed, with sustained winds and flooding on some roads, leaving lanes on major highways impassable. The city closed off flood-prone areas.

In a video posted on social media by a local ABC station in Houston, crews using a fire truck with a life jacket and ladder rescue a man from a truck on a flooded stretch of freeway.

At a late-morning press conference, Houston Mayor John Whitmire urged people to shelter in place. He noted that flood waters exceeded 10 inches (25 cm) in most parts of the city.

“We’re literally getting calls all over Houston right now asking for first responders to come to the rescue in desperate life-saving situations,” Whitmire said.

The hurricane was a Category 1 hurricane that strengthened as it crossed the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall. But the NHC said it is expected to rapidly weaken into a tropical depression as it moves across land, as hurricanes typically do.

Barrel was forecast to become a post-tropical storm on Tuesday and was forecast to hit Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri with heavy rain.

The NHC said the storm was expected to barrel over eastern Texas a day before moving into the Lower Mississippi Valley and Ohio Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“People in the path of Barrel’s path should not let their guard down this week,” Acqua Weather said in a statement, warning of possible storm surges as far north as Ohio and possible flooding as far north as Detroit.

A White House official said President Joe Biden is being regularly updated on the storm, while administration officials are in close contact with state and local counterparts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Coast Guard deployed crews to assist in search and rescue efforts. FEMA also prepared water, food and generators to boost local response efforts, according to the Biden administration.

Schools said they would close as the storm approached. Airlines canceled more than 1,300 flights, and authorities ordered evacuations in coastal cities. Small businesses in Houston, including package delivery services and chiropractors, delayed opening or closed Monday.

More than 2 million homes and businesses in Texas have lost power, according to data from local utilities and PowerOutage.us.

Several counties in southeast Texas — including Houston, where many U.S. energy companies are headquartered — are under flood warnings as thunderstorms dumped up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in some areas.

Resident Gary Short said he was most concerned about possible flooding, which the NHC warned was expected in parts of Texas by Monday night.

“I’m more worried about the rain,” he said while filling a petrol can at a service station on Sunday. “Besides, not too worried, just getting ready.”

The shutdown of major oil shipping ports around Corpus Christi, Galveston and Houston ahead of the storm could disrupt exports, along with crude oil shipments to refineries and motor fuel shipments from plants. The Corpus Christi Ship Channel has reopened, while the Port of Houston was expected to resume operations Tuesday afternoon.

© Reuters.  Cars are submerged in floodwaters after Hurricane Barrel made landfall on July 8, 2024 in Houston, Texas, USA.  REUTERS/Rich Matthews

Some oil producers, including Shell ( LON: ) and Chevron (NYSE: ), evacuated personnel from its Gulf of Mexico offshore production platform ahead of the storm.

Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s (NYSE: ) refinery in Texas City, Texas, was affected by a power outage amid the storm on Monday, the company said in a statement.





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