/ 5 August 2008

Tropical storm strengthens on the way to Texas

Tropical Storm Edouard was forecast to reach near-hurricane strength as it headed towards the gulf coast of Texas, the National Hurricane Centre said on Tuesday.

Oil companies with exploration and refining facilities in the region had battened down and evacuated many of their offshore personnel ahead of the storm, which was expected to make landfall at about midday on Tuesday.

At 6am GMT on Tuesday, Edouard’s centre was located about 145km south-east of Port Arthur, Texas, and about 190km east of Galveston, Texas, the Miami-based centre reported.

”Edouard is forecast to strengthen, and it is expected to be near hurricane strength by the time it reaches the coastline later today,” the centre said.

”Some elevated oil rigs south of the Louisiana coast have been reporting wind busts of near-hurricane force during the past hours,” the bulletin read.

The tropical storm is packing maximum sustained winds near 95km/h, with higher gusts.

A storm surge of up to 1,2m ”above normal tide levels can be expected in the warning areas of onshore winds”.

The report also warned of ”isolated tornadoes” that are possible ”over portions of southern Louisiana and the upper Texas coast”.

The storm was heading in a west-northwesterly direction at about 17km/h.

”On the forecast track, the centre of Edouard is expected to be near or over the upper Texas or south-western Louisiana coasts” by midday, or about 5pm GMT on Tuesday.

More than 5,4-million coastal inhabitants of both states could be affected by Edouard’s winds and rain-induced flooding, especially those in the low-lying, poorer sections of Galveston, Texas, said the US Census Bureau.

Oil industry operators in the area — a crucial hub of the US petroleum industry — said they were taking safety precautions as the storm neared.

Anglo-Dutch energy group Royal Dutch Shell said on Monday it would evacuate about 40 staff from the Gulf of Mexico.

”No further evacuations are planned at this time and based on current information and forecast, we do not expect any impact on Shell-operated production in the Gulf of Mexico,” the company said in a statement.

ExxonMobil, meanwhile, said it was monitoring the storm to see if evacuations would be necessary. The oil giant said its exploration and production facilities, as well as its Baytown refinery and chemical plants, were all operating normally.

”ExxonMobil is determining which of its facilities may potentially be in the path of the storm, preparing those structures for heavy wind and rain, and identifying personnel for possible evacuation to shore.

”Currently, there is no impact on production, and no personnel have been evacuated,” the company said on its website. — Sapa-AFP