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Local resident John Smith holds his 18-month-old son ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Nicholas in Galveston, Texas, US, on September 13 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ADREES LATIF
Local resident John Smith holds his 18-month-old son ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Nicholas in Galveston, Texas, US, on September 13 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ADREES LATIF

Houston — Heavy rains lashed Texas and Louisiana on Tuesday as hurricane Nicholas weakened into a tropical storm, bringing the threat of widespread floods and power outages as it swept down the US Gulf Coast.

It is the second major storm to threaten the region in recent weeks, after hurricane Ida killed more than two dozen people in August and devastated communities in Louisiana near New Orleans.

Nicholas, which had reached hurricane strength before weakening, should weaken further and become a depression by Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

But it could still cause life-threatening flash floods across the Deep South in the next couple of days, the agency warned.

Nicholas was about 50km southwest of Houston, Texas by 4am Central Time, heading northeast with maximum sustained winds of 110km/h, the NHC said in a bulletin, after it hit the Texas coast hours earlier.

President Joe Biden declared an emergency for Louisiana and ordered federal assistance for local responders because of the effects of Nicholas, the White House said.

Nicholas could also knock out electricity and hamper restoration efforts after hurricane Ida knocked out power in Louisiana.

Early on Tuesday, more than 95,000 people in Louisiana and more than 345,000 people in Texas faced outages, the website PowerOutage.us showed.

“It will be a very slow-moving storm across the state of Texas that will linger for several days and drop a tremendous amount of rain,” Texas governor Greg Abbott had said on Monday.

Abbott declared states of emergency in 17 counties and three cities, with boat and helicopter rescue teams being deployed or put on standby.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, citing flood warnings, urged the city's roughly 2.3-million residents to stay off streets and highways.

“Take things seriously and prepare,” Turner said at a news conference. “This is primarily a rain event and we don't know how much rain we will be getting.”

Flights cancelled

The Houston independent school district cancelled Tuesday's classes, while dozens of schools across both states shut on Monday.

Houston suspended light rail and bus services on Monday evening. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed at airports in Corpus Christi and Houston.

Houston, the fourth-most populous US city, was devastated in 2017 when Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, slammed Texas, dropping up to 102cm of rain in some areas and killing more than 100 people.

National Weather Service models forecast rainfall totals from Nicholas from 41cm in coastal parts of Texas to 51cm in some spots. Its northeast sweep was expected to pummel parts of south-central Louisiana and southern Mississippi with up to 25cm of rain.

The National Weather Service issued storm surge, flood and tropical storm warnings and watches throughout the region, calling it a “life-threatening situation”.

“We want to make sure that no-one is caught off guard by this storm,” Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said on Monday.

Edwards warned against flash floods triggered by the heavy rain as drainage systems were still clogged with debris from Ida and other storms.

Royal Dutch Shell began evacuating staff on Monday from an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico as firms battened down against the winds. 



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