HOUSTON, Sep 13 (Reuters) Heavy rains and whipping winds struck southeastern Texas as Tropical Storm Humberto closed in on the Texas coast from the Gulf of Mexico.
Humberto's winds had risen to 100 kph and could be close to hurricane strength-- 118 kph -- when the storm center comes ashore early, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
''Some additional strengthening is possible over the next several hours,'' the center said in its latest advisory advisory. ''Winds could be approaching hurricane force in a small area close to where the center crosses the coast.'' At 10 p.m. CDT (0830 IST), the eye of the storm was 40 km south-southeast of the island city of Galveston and moving north-northeast at 9 kph, the center said.
Forecasters said up to 38 cm of rain could fall as Humberto creeps along on a path expected to take it from southeastern Texas into Louisiana and Mississippi.
Earlier predictions called for the storm to hit Houston, but it skirted to the east and the nation's fourth largest city was expected to escape with little impact.
Jack Colley, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said emergency teams had been placed in Houston and in Beaumont and Port Arthur near the Louisiana border.
The hurricane center said a tropical storm warning was in effect from Sargent, Texas to Intracoastal City in Louisiana, where officials also said storm preparations were underway.
Southeastern Texas is a major oil-producing and gasoline-refining center, but industry officials said they were not expecting significant impact from Humberto.
Another storm, Tropical Depression 8, was brewing in the central Atlantic, with top winds of 55 kph. It had not yet strengthened as expected, but was likely to become a tropical storm today forecasters said.
At 10 p.m. CDT (0830 IST), it was located 1,620 km east of the Lesser Antilles islands of the eastern Caribbean Sea and moving west-northwest at 12 mph 19 kph.
REUTERS JT VC1006