Hurricane Alex weakened to a tropical storm Thursday as it moved further inland over northeastern Mexico, dumping heavy rains that flooded cities but sparing U.S. oil facilities near its path.
Rain from the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic season flooded about 80 percent of the port city of Matamoros, sent uprooted trees crashing down on parked cars and forced thousands to flee low-lying fishing villages. Inland in the industrial city of Monterrey, at least two people were killed by Alex's rains, which washed away cars, bridges and some houses and turned dry desert beds into turbulent rivers.
"The damage is enormous, a river burst its banks and we have people trapped on the roofs of their houses,'' said mayor Martin Zamarripa of the town of Hualahuises outside Monterrey.
Alex made landfall as a Category 2 Hurricane on the Tamaulipas coast around 9 p.m. Wednesday . U.S. oil installations have not been hit by the storm, which formed near the Yucatan peninsula Saturday, but some companies cut back production and evacuated staff.
As of Wednesday, oil companies had shut down production of more than 421,000 barrels per day, about a quarter of the Gulf's output, as a precaution.
They have also shut 919 million cubic feet per day of gas output, some 14 percent of the Gulf's total.
BP Plc said Thursday its Gulf oil and gas output was back to normal, although the passage of Alex slowed oil clean-up and containment efforts at its leaking deep-sea well off the Louisiana coast.
The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the nation's only deepwater oil supertanker unloading terminal, hopes to resume operations by late Thursday, a spokeswoman said.
Alex, which is expected to dissipate over Mexico's central mountain ranges over night, had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and was located about 150 miles east of Zacatecas in central Mexico.
Across the border in Brownsville, Texas, at least three tornadoes swept through the area, tossing over tractor-trailers although no major damage was reported. "Isolated tornadoes are possible over portions of extreme southern Texas today,'' the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Alex was the first and strongest Category 2 hurricane to occur in June since 1966.
Mexican marines evacuated thousands of people from fishing communities along the Gulf coast and into shelters, but some refused to leave their homes even as water ran in under doors.
However, local authorities will remain on high alert in case of rainfall as high as 20 inches. Alex killed a dozen people in Central America over the weekend.