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Erin's rains making soggy mess in Texas

Recovery efforts were in full swing Friday morning as water-logged Texas dealt with the rainy remnants of Tropical Storm Erin, which authorities said could be a prelude to Hurricane Dean now tearing through the eastern Caribbean.

At least four people died Thursday in Erin's thunderstorms, which dropped up to 10 inches of rain in parts of San Antonio and Houston, and more was expected Friday. Up to 7 inches of rain was forecast for western Texas on Friday.

Near San Antonio, more than 50 people were evacuated from homes on Medina Lake and from recreational vehicles along the Medina River after overnight rain caused the river to swell, said Barbara Kincaid, a Bandera County dispatcher. There were no reports of injuries.

Officials were monitoring possible flooding along the Cibolo Creek in Comal County and the Pedernales River in Johnson and Blanco counties, said Larry Eblen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Austin-San Antonio.

"The ground's already saturated, then with the amount of rain we got today it's just running off and causing flash flooding, so if we get additional rain it will be a major concern for us," Orlando Hernandez, emergency management coordinator for Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, said Thursday.

Dean, a Category 2 storm, appeared to be days away from the Gulf Coast, but officials were gearing up for the possibility of the season's most severe storm yet.

"It's so far out, but it's not too early to start preparing," said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "We have more notice than with Erin. We're glad for that especially since (Dean) is projected to bring some strength."

On Thursday, a man was swept away in San Antonio after apparently getting out of his vehicle in floodwater, a police spokeswoman said.

Two people died after the waterlogged roof of a storage unit outside a Houston grocery store collapsed, according to Houston fire and Harris County hospital officials. And a truck driver drowned in Harris County when his 18-wheeler went into a flooded retention pond, according to county's Office of Emergency Management.

Three people died in a head-on collision on a rainy highway in Comal County, but Department of Public Safety Trooper Rick Alvarez said the cause of the crash was still under investigation.

Several high water rescues were reported in Bexar County, including a man who had taken refuge in a tree. About 30 homes in San Antonio were affected by flooding and five others in unincorporated areas of the county, Hernandez said.

Summer storms have poured record rainfall across Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, with floods killing 20 people since mid-June. One July storm dropped 17 inches of rain in 24 hours and brought Texas out of a more than decade-long drought.

The dangers of a slow-moving storm system are well known in Houston, where Tropical Storm Allison stalled for several days in 2001, soaking the flat, low-lying city. After passing Houston, it returned, dumping about 20 inches of rain in eight hours. About two dozen people died, most of the city was without power and entire neighborhoods were destroyed.

Still, state and local officials said Erin was a relatively calm rehearsal for the hurricane season.

"It was a good dry run. I hope it stays dry," Corpus Christi Mayor Henry Garrett said after Erin had moved ashore as a tropical depression and largely spared the Gulf Coast city.

Houston-based Transocean Inc. said it was taking precautions to deal with the storms. The operator of the largest deepwater drilling rig fleet in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico said Thursday it had evacuated 11 nonessential workers late Wednesday as a precaution. About 125 people remain on board the moored, semisubmersible rig about 160 miles southeast of New Orleans.

Shell Oil Co. evacuated 188 people this week from offshore facilities in Erin's path and said Thursday it was already monitoring Dean.

Hurricane specialists expect this year's Atlantic hurricane season — June 1 to Nov. 30 — to be busier than average, with as many as 16 tropical storms, nine of them strengthening into hurricanes. Ten tropical storms developed in the Atlantic last year, but only two made landfall in the United States.

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