BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Hurricane warnings were posted along 230 miles of coastline in Texas and Mexico and thousands of people were urged to head for higher ground Monday as Tropical Storm Beryl formed in the Gulf of Mexico.
Authorities in South Texas filled 20,000 sandbags, closed government offices and tested generators. People nailed plywood over windows, parks were closed and documents were moved into waterproof storage areas.
Beryl reached tropical storm status when its sustained winds reached 40 mph. It was expected to reach hurricane strength - sustained winds of at least 75 mph - shortly before coming ashore Tuesday somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border, said James Franklin at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Outside Brownsville in Cameron County, where the Rio Grande empties into the gulf, residents of low-lying colonias, or shantytowns, were urged to seek shelter. An estimated 20,000 people live in those rural neighborhoods, known for flimsy construction and inadequate drainage that make them vulnerable to severe flooding.
''We probably won't see massive destruction, but people will need to get out of those houses,'' said county Judge Gilberto Hinojosa.
Officials also urged residents of South Padre Island to head for the mainland. At its highest, South Padre is only 16 feet above sea level.
Beryl was expected to be just barely a hurricane, but a storm surge of 2 to 5 feet was predicted along the coast and 5 to 10 inches of rain could fall in 24 hours, Franklin said.
At 1 p.m. Monday, Beryl had sustained winds of 50 mph. It was centered about 175 miles south-southwest of Brownsville and was moving northwest at 6 mph.
The U.S. government issued a hurricane warning for a 100-mile stretch from Baffin Bay, just north of Corpus Christi, to the Mexican border. The Mexican government issued a hurricane warning from the border south to La Pesca, a stretch of about 130 miles.
Elsewhere, Hurricane Alberto gradually lost strength Monday as it moved over cooler water in the North Atlantic and was downgraded to a tropical storm.
At l0 a.m., Alberto had sustained winds of 70 mph, down from 115 mph Saturday. Additional weakening was forecast over the next several days.
Alberto was about 610 miles west of the Azores Islands, west of Portugal, and was moving east near 21 mph.
''It looks like it's going to stall out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,'' hurricane center forecaster Miles Lawrence said.
On the Net:
Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Hurricane Central: http://www.weatherpoint.com/hc/home/0,1916,oso,00.html
Storm 2000: http://www.gopbi.com/weather/storm