BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Shelters emptied and flooded streets receded Thursday after Hurricane Alex harmlessly swiped Texas and let the Rio Grande Valley escape with a mostly mild test run barely a month into the Atlantic hurricane season.
Alex weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday while churning across northern Mexico. It made landfall late Wednesday as the earliest Category 2 storm in more than 40 years, but spared Texas with little more than soaking thunderstorms.
"It was a great drill," said Johnny Cavanos, Cameron County's emergency management coordinator.
No injuries or major damage were reported, and pumps sucked out high water in only a few remaining areas by Thursday morning. Authorities said low-lying colonias — slapdash and unincorporated communities frequently without public utilities — stood up well to Alex.
The storm dumped 9 to 11 inches of rain in the Brownsville area, but the intermittent punches of Alex's spinning outer bands gave the flood-prone Rio Grande Valley time to recede between lashes of soaking downpours and gusts that reached 66 mph.
That saved south Texas the devastating floods brought by Hurricane Dolly in 2008, when the Category 2 storm made landfall on South Padre Island. Cameron County had no respite then to dry out while Dolly slowly crawled over the Texas-Mexico border.
Dolly's memory led Felipa Ramirez to board up her storefront windows at Texan Credit Corporation in downtown Brownsville, near the foot of the bridge that crosses over to Matamoros, Mexico.
But on Thursday morning, Ramirez merely swept small puddles from her leaking roof outside while her husband, Mike, took down the plywood boards. The sound of power drills removing screws thrummed down the plaza's long street.
"After Dolly we didn't take any chances," Ramirez said. "But this time we dodged a bullet."
The causeway to South Padre Island reopened early Thursday after strong gusts shut down the bridge to the mainland Wednesday. Although the worst of the weather had passed, a tornado watch remained in effect Thursday for most of South Texas.
More than 1,000 people who packed shelters in Hidalgo and Cameron nearly all left back for home at daybreak. American Electrical Power reported that fewer than 2 percent of customers were without power, a mere blip compared to the 211,000 homes blacked out when Dolly thundered ashore two years ago.
But the way Alex's outer bands came and went across South Texas, this was no Dolly.
"That was the difference between us taking a landfall 80 to 100 miles away like this one did, and taking a direct hit like we did two years ago," National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Campbell in Brownsville said.
Alex was the first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season and the first storm to reach Category 2 strength in June since Hurricane Alma in 1966.
That's more than the losses for 2008 and 2009 combined, according to Ribera.