PORT ARTHUR, Tex. — Bonnie, the season's first hurricane, battered the Gulf Coast today with rain and wind up to 85 m.p.h., killing at least two people, knocking out power and flooding low-lying areas before losing its punch over land.
Bonnie was downgraded to a tropical storm at mid-morning after about 20,000 beachfront residents and offshore oil workers along the Gulf Coast fled inland.
One man was killed today when his pickup truck was caught in a squall and went out of control on a roadway near Port Arthur, and a partially paralyzed woman died in Port Arthur after being trapped inside a burning home by flames fueled by gusts from the hurricane, officials said.
Four people were injured when high winds flipped a pickup truck on a highway outside Beaumont, authorities said.
Bonnie also spawned at least three tornadoes after hitting land about 4:45 a.m. south of Port Arthur and east of High Island, the National Weather Service said. It was the first June hurricane to strike Texas since 1957.
The storm was downgraded when maximum sustained wind dropped to 45 m.p.h. over land. The Weather Service discontinued all hurricane warnings as of 9 a.m. but warned that gale-force winds were continuing over southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas.
In western Louisiana, Cameron Parish Civil Defense Director Haynes Picou Jr. said, "We've got strong winds and reports of a couple hundred thousand dollars in damages."
Trees, Roofs Damaged
No injuries were reported, he said, but winds up to 80 m.p.h. buffeted the little coastal towns near the state line, tearing limbs off trees and ripping holes in roofs.
In Port Arthur, police Sgt. Robert Williamson said this morning that he was not aware of any serious damage caused by the hurricane.
"This whole city is out of power," he said.
At 11 a.m. the National Weather Service said Bonnie's eye was located well inland, about 40 miles northwest of Beaumont. It was moving north at about 10 m.p.h. and was expected to continue at that speed and course today.
Neil Frank, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., said, "This wasn't a severe hurricane, it wasn't a major hurricane, but it was a full-blown hurricane when it moved across the coastline this morning."
A tornado blew off the roof of a mobile home this morning in Winnie, Tex., 20 miles southwest of Beaumont, but no one was injured, said Mary Batiste, a dispatcher with the Chambers County Sheriff's Department.
Two tornadoes touched down in Beaumont, one in downtown, but caused only light damage, including knocking down the radio tower at the local Department of Public Safety office, said state trooper Melvin Hughes.