Hurricane Jerry, which fooled forecasters as it danced about the Gulf of Mexico for four days, finally crashed into the Texas coast at Galveston Sunday night, killing at least two people as its 85-m.p.h. winds tossed cars and ripped down power lines.
Gary Stone of the Emergency Operations Center at Galveston said he believed the worst damage occurred at the tiny town of Jamaica Beach on the western end of the 32-mile-long island.
"We're trying to get as many city people as we can out in the field to assess the damage," he said. Stone said that power outages, flooding, and blown-out windows had been reported to the center.
The bodies of a man and a small child were found floating near Galveston's sea wall, Stone said. He said the victims were believed to be either passengers in a car that washed over the sea wall or pedestrians.
There were no other immediate reports of injuries.
While the storm's maximum sustained winds were reported to be 85 m.p.h., wind gusts in the area reached 100 m.p.h. when Jerry made landfall shortly after 6 p.m., the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
But the storm's fury quickly diminished after coming ashore. By 9 p.m., Jerry was downgraded to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds decreased to 70 m.p.h. The storm was moving northeast at 14 m.p.h. and was expected to brush past the southeast side of Houston while steadily losing power over land, meteorologists said.
At least three tornadoes touched down along the Texas coast just before Jerry's landfall. A spokeswoman for the Orange Police Department said one tornado landed south of downtown, causing some property damage. A second tornado was reported in the Galveston area, tearing off roofs, and Baytown police confirmed a third tornado.
Houston Lighting & Power Co. spokesman Graham Painter said about 52,000 customers were without power in Galveston and the surrounding area. A spokesman for Gulf States Utilities said about 900 homes were without electricity in High Island, east of Galveston. There were other reported blackouts in neighboring Gilcrest, Winnie and Anahuac.
The hurricane, which originally had been forecast to make landfall in the New Orleans area, started pelting Galveston with rain and gusty wind early Sunday evening. But because it was a minimal hurricane, the city was not ordered evacuated, even though the National Weather Service predicted that tides could be as much as 10 feet higher than normal.
As the storm approached, City Manager Doug Matthews did urge residents on the western end of the island to leave because the homes there have no protection from a sea wall, which was built at the more-populous eastern end after 6,000 people were killed in a hurricane in 1900.
The storm was classified as a category 1 hurricane, the least severe possible. It came on the heels of last month's Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the South Carolina coast with 145-m.p.h. winds and caused billions of dollars in damage. Hugo was a category 4 storm. Jerry is the 10th tropical storm of the season.
Officials were less fearful of Jerry's winds than the potential for flooding. The storm hit at the same time that tides were expected to peak this week because of the relative positions of the Earth, moon and sun.
High tide at Galveston, which arrives around sunset and just before sunrise, is 1 1/2 to 2 feet above sea level. Astronomical tide was expected to add about a foot, and storm surge another 4 to 7 feet, forecasters said.
While there was no evacuation for Galveston, a number of shelters were opened along the coast for residents living in the lowlands where flooding is most likely to occur.
To the east of the storm at Grand Isle, a barrier island, more than 1,000 residents who were evacuated Saturday began returning home Sunday when it became apparent that the full force of the storm would not hit them.