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Alex reaches hurricane strength

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Southern Texas under hurricane warning
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Tropical Storm Alex becomes minimal hurricane with top winds of 75 mph
  • Storm 255 miles southeast of Brownsville, Texas, moving westward at about 9 mph
  • Texas governor declares disaster in 19 counties

Hurricane tracker has the latest on Alex's strength and location

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Alex became a minimal hurricane with top winds of 75 mph Tuesday night as it headed toward the Gulf Coast near the U.S.-Mexico border, the National Hurricane Center reported.

The storm was 255 miles (415 km) southeast of Brownsville, Texas, and was moving westward at about 9 mph, according to the hurricane center's 11 p.m. advisory. But it was expected to pick up speed and turn toward the west-northwest Wednesday, according to forecasters.

The center of Alex will approach the coast of northeastern Mexico or southern Texas on Wednesday and make landfall in the hurricane warning area late Wednesday or Wednesday night, the Miami, Florida-based hurricane center reported.

Although the storm is steering clear of the site of the BP oil spill, it already is complicating cleanup efforts. The storm has created 12-foot waves, and Tuesday, oil skimming ships were sent back to shore, from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.

Video: Gulf residents prepare for Alex

The rough seas may force crews to replace and reorganize booms meant to deter the oil from reaching shore, reported CNN's Ed Lavandera.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said that even though Florida may dodge a bullet with with storm, the Atlantic hurricane season is just beginning.

"In Florida, we've had a lot of hurricanes a number of years ago, but we handled them very well," he told CNN's Campbell Brown. "The difference and the distinction that we face now is that we have a Gulf of Mexico that's full of oil. So our hope and our prayer is that we don't have a mixture of hurricanes with oil that could potentially damage the beautiful beaches of Florida. But if we do, we're prepared for it."

Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said his city was expecting to distribute 60,000 sandbags and provide shelter for roughly 2,000 families. Utility crews were put on standby to handle outages. At the same time, 90 buses had been provided by the state government in case an evacuation is required.

"I expect about 10 percent of residents to evacuate voluntarily, which already started yesterday," Ahumada said. "I see a steady flow of people going out, but no bottlenecks -- which is good."

"We're not taking it lightly," he said. "We're ready for a worst-case scenario."

On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster proclamation for 19 counties and ordered the pre-deployment of state resources. The governor's declaration allows the state to initiate necessary preparedness efforts, such as pre-deploying resources to ensure local communities are ready to respond to disasters.

The governor's order puts up to 2,500 National Guard personnel, eight UH-60 helicopters and three C-130 aircraft on standby for rapid deployment as needed, Perry's office said in a statement.

CNN's Matt Cherry contributed to this report.

 
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