Published: Jul 01, 2010 11:48 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 01, 2010 7:34 AM EDT

7:45 Update:  The National Weather Service in Miami is downgrading Alex to a tropical storm.  Reports sustained winds are at 70MPH and will continue to weaken as the stom moves farther into Mexico.

SAN FERNANDO, Mexico (AP) - Hurricane Alex ripped off roofs,

flooded streets and forced thousands of people to flee coastal

fishing villages as it pushed into northern Mexico.

The Atlantic season's first hurricane largely spared nearby

Texas, which had prepared for a possible direct hit. While it

spawned two tornadoes and caused 1,000 people to evacuated

low-lying areas there, state officials reported no injuries or

major damages.

Earlier, Alex whipped up high waves that frustrated oil-spill

cleanup efforts on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and

delivered tar balls and globs of crude onto already soiled beaches.

The storm made landfall Wednesday night on a relatively

unpopulated stretch of coast in Mexico's northern Tamaulipas state,

about 110 miles (180 kms) south of Brownsville, Texas.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Alex was pushing inland

early Thursday at 10 mph (17 kph) but had weakened to a Category 1

storm and was expected to weaken further during the day. By 1 a.m.

CDT (0600 GMT), it was located about 35 miles (60 kilometers)

northwest of La Pesca, Mexico, and 135 miles (215 kilometers)

south-southwest of Brownsville. It had sustained winds of 85 mph

(137 kph).

Earlier, with heavy rains and winds topping 110 mph (160 kph),

it lashed Mexican fishing villages, whose residents fled inland to

the town of San Fernando on buses and in pickup trucks. Hundreds of

people filled a storm shelter in a town auditorium.

"We didn't bring anything but these clothes," said evacuee

Carolina Sanchez, 21, motioning to two small plastic bags at her

feet, as her 3-year-old sister Belen Sanchez Gonzalez clutched a

purple and white stuffed toy poodle at the storm shelter.

Her father, a fisherman, was one of many coastal residents who

stayed behind to keep watch on their homes and possessions.

Abel Ramirez of San Fernando's Civil Protection and Fire

Department said seven fishing villages, with a combined population

of about 5,000, were evacuated.

The storm blew down trees and lifted the tin roofs off several

homes, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

"The north winds are still blowing, which means the hurricane

hasn't entirely passed by us yet," Ramirez said.

The civil defense office in Matamoros, across the border from

Brownsville, said Alex's rains had already flooded around 30

neighborhoods there and officials were using small boats to rescue

some residents.

Saul Hernandez Bautista, the Matamoros director of civil

defense, said Alex had caused flooding and some damage, but with no

injuries reported yet the city appeared to have escaped the worst.

"Thank God we managed to get the people out, there is water all

over," he said. "Some trees have fallen, some (light) posts and

lines are down, but nothing more."

In Texas, officials closed the causeway to South Padre Island, a

vacation getaway off the Texas coast, and 9-foot waves were

reported on the island's beach. But by Wednesday night the National

Weather Service had downgraded its warning for the state's coast

from hurricane to tropical storm strength.

More than 1,000 people in low-lying Hidalgo and Cameron counties

fled to storm shelters. More than 1,000 homes were without power

late Wednesday, with the biggest outage caused not by the storm but

by a car that ran into a utility pole, American Electric Power

spokesman Andy Heines said.

At least 100 families took shelter in a Brownsville high school.

Sergio Gonzales, 18, arrived with nine other family members

after his father decided their house may not survive the flood.

Gonzales didn't agree with his dad.

"I think it's just going to be a normal one," he said.

The main threat as the hurricane begins to fall apart over land

will be tornadoes, which could last another day or two, hurricane

center meteorologist Chris Landsea said.

The other big threat is rain, Landsea said. Parts of Mexico and

Texas are expected to get 6-12 inches (15-30 centimeters) of rain,

which could cause flash flooding farther west, away from the coast,

he said.

It was the first June hurricane in the Atlantic since 1995,

according to the hurricane center.

Many in the border cities braved the growing rains: Commuters

struggled to get to work, pedestrians crossed the bridge connecting

Matamoros and Brownsville and newspaper hawkers manned the

less-flooded intersections.

Government workers stuck duct tape in X's across the windows of

the immigration office at the main downtown bridge in Matamoros on

Tuesday. Trucks cruised slowly down residential streets carrying

large jugs of drinking water and cars packed supermarket parking


Flash floods also forced hundreds of evacuations in the southern

Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, but hurricane specialist

Eric Blake said those rains were only indirectly related to Alex

and possibly the residual effects of Hurricane Darby, which has

dissipated in the Pacific.

Three people, including a 5-year-old child, were killed when

heavy rains and winds brought down a wall over their wooden house

in Acapulco, state Civil Protection authorities said.

Texas residents had been preparing for the storm for days,

readying their homes and businesses and stocking up on household

essentials. But concerns eased as the storm headed to the south.

Engineers were watching the levees in south Texas as the storm

approached the area.

Scientists in Texas were also monitoring a buoy system that

records the Gulf's water directions and velocity every half-hour.

That information will determine where the oil could spread, should

it approach Texas as tar balls on the beach, said Texas land

commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Oil rigs and platforms in the path of the storm's outer bands

were evacuated, and President Barack Obama issued a pre-emptive

federal disaster declaration for southern Texas counties late


The three oil rigs and 28 platforms evacuated are not part of

the Gulf oil spill response.

The storm was far from the Gulf oil spill, but cleanup vessels

were sidelined by the hurricane's ripple effects. Six-foot waves

churned up by the hurricane splattered beaches in Louisiana,

Alabama and Florida with oil and tar balls.

In Louisiana, the storm pushed an oil patch toward Grand Isle

and uninhabited Elmer's Island, dumping tar balls as big as apples

on the beach. Boom lining the beach had been tossed about, and it

couldn't be put back in place until the weather cleared.

"The sad thing is that it's been about three weeks since we had

any big oil come in here," marine science technician Michael

Malone said. "With this weather, we lost all the progress we