SOTO LA MARINA, Mexico, July 19 (Reuters) - Thousands fled for shelter around the Mexico-Texas border on Tuesday night as approaching Hurricane Emily lashed the coast with strong winds and rain after killing at least five people in the Caribbean.
Emily packed winds of 125 mph (200 kph) and strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane, capable of destroying mobile homes and blowing over large trees, as it churned toward northeastern Mexico, where it was set to make landfall early on Wednesday.
Some 17,000 Mexicans in Tamaulipas state were evacuated to shelters where many fretted over the fate of their corrugated iron homes in tiny fishing villages by the coast.
"My house is made of sheet metal. All my belongings are there. Of course I'm worried," said mother-of-four Isabel Padron, 33, taking refuge in a school in the town of Soto La Marina, 60 km (38 miles) inland from her coastal village.
Mud squelched around the school as drizzle signaled Emily's arrival. The area often floods, locals said.
"Normally it comes up to here," said 34-year-old Marivel Morales, also evacuated from the coast, pointing to her waist.
"With a hurricane it will be up to here," she said waving her hand above her head.
Downpours and whirling winds hit the border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, foreshadowing the arrival of worse weather. Officials said the fact Emily passed over warm water raised the chances of it strengthening.
Residents of coastal lowlands in the far south of Texas laid sandbags at their homes and nailed plywood over their windows, some adding messages telling Emily to "Go Away!"
On South Padre Island, a popular vacation spot off the tip of Texas, police ordered tourists at a trailer park to leave.
"I'm having a good time here ... but we've gotta run," said Alex, the last camper to leave.
Meteorologists said the storm could cause tornadoes as far north as Austin, Texas. "They will be tropical, they will be short-lived, they will be hard to find, but they will be out there," said Larry Eblen, of the National Weather Service office in San Antonio.
Cameron County declared a state of emergency and Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered over 225 National Guard members and nine National Guard aircraft on standby.
OIL EXPORTS SUSPENDED
At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), the storm's center was 120 miles (190 km) southeast of Brownsville, Texas, and moving west-northwest at a slow 7 mph (11 kph).
Emily's center was expected to hit land some 150 miles (240 km) south of the border, near low-lying fishing communities.
Heavy rain was seen likely in mountainous regions further inland and forecasters warned of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
Emily killed five people in Jamaica in its swing through the Caribbean as a Category 4 hurricane, and several people died in Mexico in incidents indirectly caused by the storm.
The storm was set for its second bite at Mexico, after slamming into the Caribbean coast on Monday, sending tens of thousands of tourists and locals to shelters in beach resorts in and around the vacation mecca of Cancun.
The storm smashed buildings, toppled trees and knocked out power but the damage was less than many had feared.
Mexican oil exports were suspended and not set to restart until Wednesday after oil operations in the southern Gulf of Mexico were halted due to the hurricane.
U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas producers expected to remain unscathed, however.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer and Miguel Angel Gutierrez in Mexico City, Jim Forsyth and Erwin Seba in Texas, and Alejandro Juarez in Matamoros)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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