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Texans Pack Their Bags as Hurricane Bears Down : Landfall Expected on Friday

Times Wire Services

Hurricane Gilbert, which killed at least 34 people in the Caribbean, thrashed slowly today toward the southern Texas coast, where people boarded their houses and fled inland in fear of the giant storm’s 120-m.p.h. winds, high tides and torrential rains.

The most intense hurricane on record had slackened somewhat after battering the Yucatan Peninsula with 160-m.p.h. winds Wednesday, but the storm was beginning to gain strength over open water as it moved toward the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The storm was headed west-northwest, said National Hurricane Center director Bob Sheets. It was moving at 15 m.p.h. and dumping up to 10 inches of rain.

Mexico or Texas

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“The area that we have the most likely possibility that this hurricane will make landfall is in the northern part of Mexico or the southeastern, southern part of Texas,” he said.

At midday, the center of the storm was about 380 miles southeast of Brownsville, Tex.

Brownsville was given a 21% probability of being hit, though a hurricane watch was in effect along the entire Texas coast as well as the northeastern Mexican coast from Tampico.

Sheets said the hurricane was expected to hit land at midday Friday and its sustained winds would today “certainly increase to 130, 140 m.p.h.”

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Light showers along the Texas shoreline this afternoon gave portent of the lethal storm churning off the coast.

Island Evacuated

Vulnerable South Padre Island, a tourist resort on a barrier island off mainland Texas, was ordered evacuated by 4 p.m. by local civil defense authorities. Officials said all people would be off the island by that time, and water and electricity to the island would be shut off at midnight.

“Most people are gone already,” said Eduardo Campirano, city manager of the town of South Padre Island. “We haven’t gotten any indications that there will be any idiots staying. A few of us (city officials) will stay to batten down the hatches and then we will be leaving.”

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Johnson Space Center in Houston, near the eastern Texas coast, was closed at noon today, while about 4,000 convicts in the Texas prison system were moved inland to safer prison units.

Air Stations Closed

The Corpus Christi and Beeville naval air stations were closed and all military aircraft along the Texas coast were being flown 130 miles inland to Lackland Air Force Base.

Earlier this week the storm struck the Caribbean, ravaging Jamaica, the Dominican Repubic, the Cayman Islands and Haiti.

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The storm, about 450 miles wide, hit the Yucatan coast at dawn Wednesday, thrashing beaches with 23-foot waves, uprooting trees, knocking out electricity and water supplies, and snapping telephone lines.

Mexican officials reported at least seven injuries. There were no reports of deaths.

Gilbert battered the provincial capital of Merida and the gulf port cities of Puerto Progreso, Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen, closing airports and roads, knocking out communications and power, and inundating streets and highways.

About 20,000 people were evacuated from Puerto Progreso and other coastal towns, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Mexico City said by telephone today. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, he said.

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The ministry said the storm seriously damaged the luxury hotel zone in the resort of Cancun and destroyed about a quarter of the homes on the nearby island of Cozumel. Ham radio operators in Mexico City also said they had reports of massive damage to several hotels.


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