HOUSTON, Sep 13 (Reuters) Hurricane Humberto spared Houston but blasted the Texas-Louisiana border area today, killing one person, shutting down three refineries and cutting power to 100,000 customers.
''If Houston got a pass, we got the fast-ball strike,'' said Greg Fountain, coordinator for Jefferson County emergency management serving the Beaumont-Port Arthur area in southeastern Texas.
Humberto grew to hurricane status quicker than forecasters had expected but weakened after a few hours over land and was reclassified again as a tropical storm.
The hurricane was blamed for the death of an 80-year-old man in Bridge City, between Beaumont and Port Arthur. He was killed when his patio canopy fell on him at the height of the storm, a Bridge City police spokesman said.
At 11 a.m. EDT (2030hrs IST) Humberto was 75 miles west-northwest of Lafayette, Louisiana, with sustained winds of about 65 mph. Rain accumulations of 4 to 8 inches were expected across much of Louisiana, Mississippi and part of Arkansas, with 12 inches (30 cms) possible in some spots.
Part of Humberto's target zone still was recovering from Hurricane Rita, which hit the Texas-Louisiana border in 2005 three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
Power was out to more than 100,000 customers and damage to trees, homes and outbuildings was reported in a wide area from west of Beaumont to west of Lake Charles, Louisiana, officials said. In Orange, Texas, police dispatcher Tina Crowning reported power was out to 99 per cent of the city and said water was knee-deep in some spots.
Total Petrochemicals USA , Valero Energy Corp. and Motiva Enterprises LLC refineries in Port Arthur were shut down by power outages.
Waterways into the Beaumont-Port Arthur and Lake Charles areas remained closed to ship traffic today morning. Houston's vital ship channel from the Gulf of Mexico was reopened after the danger passed.
Houston and Lake Charles, which are major refining centers like Beaumont-Port Arthur, appeared to have escaped the worst.
''We were fortunate this time,'' said Dinah Massie Martinez, spokeswoman for Houston Transtar, a multi-agency emergency office.
In between Houston and Lake Charles, it was a different story as towns such as Bridge City, Texas, and Vinton, Louisiana, faced downed power lines and roads closed due to high water. But the main artery through the area, Interstate 10, remained open, officials said.
The storm came ashore early today with 85-mph winds in outheastern Texas and still packed a punch as it moved into southwestern Louisiana.
''We're getting reports that it could be, in certain areas, fairly substantial damage because of loss of power, damage to houses, tree limbs down,'' Fountain said.
The storm blew down a tree at Fountain's house and knocked a portable building off its blocks nearby, he said.
Total Petrochemicals USA's 232,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Port Arthur was closed by a power failure early Thursday but operations were expected to resume later in the day.
Ship pilots shut down traffic on the Sabine-Neches Waterway serving Beaumont and Port Arthur and on the Calcasieu Ship Channel serving Lake Charles.
''It's sloppy, rough,'' the Lake Charles pilot dispatcher said.
The storm, which brewed up in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, made landfall near High Island, about 30 miles northeast of Galveston, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Humberto was the third hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, and was dwarfed by its ferocious Category 5 predecessors Dean and Felix. They struck Mexico and Central America, respectively, with Felix killing at least 130 people.
REUTERS RAR AS2125