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Tropical Storm Emily brings flood threat

Storm spawns Texas tornadoes and heavy rains

Hurricane Emily comes ashore Wednesday in northeastern Mexico.



Hurricane Emily

MONTERREY, Mexico (CNN) -- Nine hours after making landfall as a powerful Category 3 hurricane, Emily's top winds dropped to 70 mph, just low enough to make it a tropical storm Wednesday afternoon.

Rain from the storm could still cause flooding and landslides, however.

Emily moved westward and close to the eastern Sierra Madre range in northeastern Mexico Wednesday afternoon, according to an advisory issued at 4 p.m. CT (5 p.m. ET) by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

While residents of Monterrey, a city of 4 million nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, prepared for possible flooding, people in south Texas cleaned up from a series of tornadoes spawned by Emily's northern bands.

As of 4 p.m. CT, the storm was headed west at 12 mph and centered 80 miles southeast of Monterrey and 95 miles southwest of McAllen, Texas.

Landfall came at 7:35 a.m. CT near San Fernando, Mexico, when Emily was Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with winds reaching 125 mph, the center said.

Hurricane-force winds extended 70 miles (112 kilometers) from the center and tropical storm winds went out as far as 160 miles (257 kilometers), the hurricane center said.

Most of northeastern Mexico was expected to get 5 to 10 inches of rain, with up to 15 inches falling in the mountains.

Residents of the Rio Grande valley were told they could receive 2 to 4 inches of rain. The Rio Grande forms the international border between Texas and Mexico

The last major hurricane that rolled through northeastern Mexico was Gilbert in 1988, killing 202 people, mostly from flooding, according to the archives of the National Hurricane Center.

Although the forecasters warned of dangerous flash floods and mudslides, only a few hundred people had taken refuge Wednesday morning in the 155 shelters in Monterrey , according to Mario Ascacio, director of the disaster relief unit for the Red Cross in the city.

Emergency workers said flooding could damage poorly built homes in some areas. They walked through neighborhoods urging people to evacuate by Tuesday night.

"We know what's out there, and we know what's coming, so we'll see what happens," said Ruttilo Macisa, who lives along a riverbank in Monterrey.

Texas reports minor damage

While south Texas was spared a direct hit, the storm spawned at least eight tornadoes.

Jim Wells County appeared to be the hardest hit, with a mobile home and two houses destroyed by a tornado Wednesday morning near the town of Alice, according to Sandra Salas with the county sheriff's department.

A woman was hurt when a piece of debris hit her after she parked her car on a roadside as the tornado approached, Salas said.

In Texas, Brownsville experienced heavy rain and high wind but police reported only minor damage and no injuries.

About 4,600 people crowded into 16 shelters opened by the American Red Cross overnight, according to spokeswoman Anita Foster. Many of them left for their homes by late Wednesday morning, she said.

Electric power was off for about 23,000 homes and businesses in southern Texas Wednesday morning, but utility crews were making quick progress on restoring service, according to American Electric Power spokesman Andy Hines.

South Padre Island, a barrier island east of Brownsville, was the hardest hit of the Texas communities, although most of its residents chose to ride out the storm.

Residents boarded up windows and gathered sand bags as the storm approached. Families in RV parks were ordered to evacuate.

CNN's Chris Lawrence, on the scene in South Padre, said Gulf waters had traveled about 40 yards inland and covered the entire beach by midmorning Wednesday, although high tide was still hours away.

Island spokesman Dan Quandt said that while about 60 percent of the hotel reservations had been canceled as Emily approached, business should quickly return after it has passed.

Some of the tourists, who had come from as far away as Ohio and New York, said they hoped they would be able to resume their vacations in a day or so when Emily had moved on.

The biggest challenge was restoring power to the 10,000 homes and businesses in the island left in the dark Wednesday morning.

It was too soon to measure the damage to the cotton crop in south Texas, the heavy rain was welcomed by citrus farmers, said Beverly Boyd, Texas deputy assistant commissioner of agriculture. The area has been under a severe drought, she said.

Emily was blamed for five deaths on the Caribbean islands of Grenada and Jamaica. It packed 155 mph winds at one point, making it the most powerful July hurricane on record in the Caribbean basin.

The storm swept across the Yucatan Peninsula before entering the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. No deaths were reported in the Yucatan region.

CNN's Randi Kaye, Ed Lavandera, Chris Lawrence and Ninette Sosa contributed to this report.

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