Adam Gabbatt and agencies
Hurricane Alex halts efforts to capture oil from Gulf of Mexico as experts predict severe storm season ahead.
Hurricane Alex, upgraded from tropical storm status late last night and expected to hit the coasts of Mexico and Texas later today, is expected to interrupt the company’s efforts for several days to come.
Waves as high as 3.6 metres (12ft) are expected to delay the company’s plans to employ a further system to capture more oil from the blown-out oil well until later in the week, while controlled burns of crude on the oil’s surface, flights spraying dispersant chemicals and booming operations were all halted yesterday, officials said.
Alex, the first June storm in 15 years to gain hurricane strength in the Atlantic, is expected to make land tonight, bringing 15-30cms (6-12ins) of rain to north-eastern Mexico and southern Texas as well as dangerous storm surges along the coast.
The hurricane has winds of 80mph and was located about 255 miles south-east of Brownsville, Texas, at 7am today UK time. It was moving west at 5mph, the US national hurricane centre said.
Mexico has closed its Gulf coast ports of Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas – which handle around 80% of the country’s oil exports – since Sunday because of strong surf. Although Alex is hampering BP’s clean-up efforts, the company has said the storm is not expected to interrupt plans to drill two relief wells intended to plug the leak by August.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the coast of Texas, south of Baffin Bay down to the mouth of the Rio Grande, and along the north-east coast of Mexico.
A tropical storm warning extends south along the east Mexican coast to Cabo Rojo, just south of the port city of Tampico.
Officials in south Texas have prepared rescue vehicles and shelters in San Antonio and Laredo, and rushed supplies to the Rio Grande Valley. Bob Pinkerton, mayor of South Padre Island, a coastal community where the entire economy rests on tourism, last night urged residents and visitors to evacuate.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from 1 June to 30 November, and meteorologists predict this year’s to be an active one.