Humberto becomes hurrican as it nears Texas coast

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HOUSTON, Sep 13 (Reuters) Tropical Storm Humberto became Hurricane Humberto early today as it neared the Texas coast with maximum winds of 128 kph.

The storm had been expected to make landfall as a tropical storm, but strengthened suddenly in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and became the third hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season.

As of 1215 CDT (1045 IST), the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Humberto's eye was 20 km south of High Island, Texas, which is east of Galveston, and heading north-northeast at 13 kph.

Humberto was a minimal, Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with hurricane force winds extending out just 20 km to the northeast of its center.

''Little additional strengthening was expected prior to landfall,'' the hurricane center said, but because of its slow pace, the storm was forecast to dump up to 38 cm of rain.

Rains and winds already were whipping the Texas coast from Galveston eastward as Humberto headed toward the Texas-Louisiana border region.

A hurricane warning was issued from east of High Island to Cameron, Louisiana, which is still recovering from Hurricane Rita in September 2005.

Rita struck along the Texas-Louisiana border just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Texas and Louisiana officials positioned emergency teams and rescue equipment in the path of Humberto.

''We will work with local officials to provide the state resources necessary to ensure the safety of all Texas residents as this storm moves over the state,'' Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.

Even though the Texas-Louisiana border region is a major oil-producing and gasoline-refining area, industry officials predicted little impact to operations.

The hurricane center said at 10 pm CDT (0830 IST) another storm, Tropical Depression 8, was located 1,005 miles (1,620 km) east of the Lesser Antilles islands of the eastern Caribbean Sea and moving west-northwest at 19 kph.

It had not yet strengthened as expected, but was likely to become a tropical storm today, forecasters said.

Reuters JT DS1225

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