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Tropical storm Nicholas weakens as it heads inland

 AFP / Sep 14, 2021, 15:24 IST

HOUSTON: Tropical storm Nicholas weakened as it moved inshore over Texas early Tuesday morning, with meteorologists downgrading it from a hurricane.

The storm has maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts, and was expected to dump five to 10 inches of rain over the Texas coast and upper Louisiana, weather officials said.

However, they warned there could be isolated instances of storm rainfall of 20 inches across central to southern Louisiana.

"Radar and surface observations indicate that Nicholas has continued to move slowly inland and has weakened during the past few hours," the US National Hurricane Center said.

The storm -- which landed at around 0530 GMT Tuesday -- was bringing heavy rainfall "potentially resulting in areas of life-threatening flash and urban flooding," the NHC said in a separate advisory.

"There is the danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation along the coast of Texas from Sargent to Sabine Pass," it added.

Early Tuesday morning the hurricane's center was located above the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula, according to the Miami-based observatory.

Matagorda is just a few miles southwest of Houston, Texas's largest city.

Videos shared on social media showed vicious winds -- in one clip a CitGo petrol station roof is tipped over -- and lashing rain as the storm moved up the coast towards Houston.

The NHC also issued a storm surge warning for much of the Gulf coast, meaning "there is a danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline."

"This is a life-threatening situation," it said, warning people in the area to "take all necessary actions to protect life and property."

The NHC said Nicholas should weaken further, and is set to become a tropical depression by Wednesday.

Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston -- parts of which were devastated by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 -- said the city was on high alert.

Authorities have erected barricades, activated Houston's office of emergency management and told residents to take extra safety precautions.

"I urge everyone to be OFF the roads by sun down and to avoid driving tonight through tomorrow as we anticipate heavy rainfall," Turner tweeted.

Late Monday, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

Ahead of the storm's arrival many flights were canceled at Houston-area airports, and the Houston ship channel at its busy port was closed, said a spokesman for the agency that steers ships through the waterway.

Schools closed Monday afternoon across the storm-affected area and will remain shut on Tuesday, officials said.

Customers rushed to gas stations and supermarkets across the region to fill fuel tanks and stock up on bottled water, toilet paper, and perishables such as milk and eggs.

Texas is no stranger to hurricanes, but scientists warn that climate change is making the storms more powerful, posing an increasing risk to coastal communities.

Coastlines are already suffering from flooding, which has been amplified by rising sea levels.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott had urged residents to prepare.

"It is up to all Texans in the path of this storm to take precautions, heed the guidance of officials, and remain vigilant as this severe weather moves through Texas," he said in a statement.