Two dead in Claudette's wake
PORT LAVACA, Texas (CNN) -- Claudette, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, was downgraded to a tropical storm Tuesday afternoon after slamming into central Texas and weakening over land, said the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.
The storm was blamed for two deaths -- a woman in Victoria, Texas, who was killed by a falling tree limb, and a boy in Jourdanton, Texas, killed when a tree fell on him, officials said.
The storm, which reached hurricane status earlier in the day with winds of 80-85 mph gusting to 104 mph, tested the limits of power lines, trees and structures as it made landfall.
By Tuesday night maximum sustained winds had diminished to 50 mph, and continued weakening was expected, the hurricane center said.
At 11 p.m., the center of Claudette was about 70 miles south-southwest of San Antonio, Texas.
Heavy storms were still reported on the eye wall of the system, which was moving westward at 14 mph. Tropical storm force winds extended as far out as 140 miles, the hurricane center said.
"There's nothing minimal about Claudette," said Jack Colley, state coordinator for the governor's Division of Emergency Management.
"Fifteen counties were impacted, we're still in the response mode, and our objective now is to ensure the health and safety of our citizens," Colley said.
Reuters reported utility companies as saying some 74,000 customers were without power.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect from Port Aransas to Freeport. Tornado watches and flash flood and flood warnings also were in effect across the area.
In Victoria, just inland of Port Lavaca, a woman was killed after the worst of the storm had passed through. A spokesman for the Victoria County Sheriff's Department said the woman left her house to inspect damage outside when a tree limb fell on her and killed her.
In Jourdanton, Texas, about 35 miles south of San Antonio, a 13-year-old boy was killed by a tree that fell in the storm, officials said.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescued two men after their 92-foot shrimp boat sank at the entrance to Sabine Pass, a narrow slip of open water through the bayous east of Galveston on the Texas-Louisiana state line.
"They were covered in diesel fuel, but they were in good health," said Coast Guard spokesman Adam Wine.
The storm surge stranded some residents of Surfside Beach, near Freeport, but the hurricane center said the flooding along the north Texas coast would subside as the high tide ebbed.
In the Galveston area, more than 100 miles from where Claudette came ashore, 8-foot waves crashed over five lanes of highway on the seawall built nearly 1,000 feet from the tide line, and waterspouts spun wildly over the choppy water.
The Galveston City Council declared the western end of the island a disaster area, which should help residents apply more quickly for federal aid. Many beachfront houses were damaged and several roads were impassable because of high water or from storm damage.
"It got a little hairy overnight, but it didn't get as bad as we expected," Galveston Mayor Roger Quiroga told CNN. "It should be getting better as the time goes by."
Quiroga said beach erosion was the area's biggest concern. Galveston Island, he said, loses about 10 feet of beach a year without hurricane-force winds and rain.
In Port Lavaca -- about 10 miles west of Port O'Connor -- television images, blurred by the salty spray on camera lenses, captured palm trees and weakly built structures blowing over in the wind.
Later, city crews rushed to assess the damage in the short break before the storm's back edge passed through.
"The north side of town's had quite a bit of damage," said city manager Gary Broz, standing by the rubble of a downtown park's brick wall. "The majority of the town is without power."
But Broz said that overall, the city had come through Claudette's leading edge fairly well.
Hurricane center forecasters expected Claudette to weaken to a tropical depression overnight, but the system still could spawn tornadoes in portions of south-central Texas, and leave 5 to 8 inches of rain in its wake.
Colley said the rain will be bad news for the region, which only a year ago had severe flooding in 41 counties. "We're very concerned about that," he said.
Drifting aimlessly in the central Gulf after dumping heavy rain on several famed vacation spots in the Caribbean and on the Yucatan Peninsula, a disorganized Claudette loomed all weekend, out of sight of vacationers and residents on the Texas coast.
Throughout Monday, waves as high as 12 feet were reported on the central and north coasts, even while the storm was as far as 250 miles from shore. Finally, late Monday into early Tuesday, Claudette transformed into an organized hurricane, its winds steadily increasing until it reached the shoreline.
CNN correspondents Martin Savidge and Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.