HARLINGEN, Texas — Residents across south Texas slogged through knee-deep muddy waters, tiptoed around downed power lines and dug through debris Thursday, but were thankful that Hurricane Dolly didn't pack the wallop they had feared.
Downed power lines remained the greatest danger, and South Texas officials urged people to stay home one more day "unless it's life or death." One person in Matamoros, Mexico, died from electrocution after walking past a power line on the ground.
Residents picked up the pieces of their houses and businesses blown apart by the storm. But as dry skies spread over the region, they were struck by relief that the storm didn't take many lives. Even so, there will be substantial cleanup: President Bush declared 15 counties in South Texas a disaster area to release federal funding to them, and insurance estimators put the losses at $750 million.
By Thursday afternoon, with the storm's maximum sustained winds blowing around 35 mph, forecasters downgraded Dolly to a tropical depression. The storm was expected to break up by Friday, and was centered about 35 miles south of Eagle Pass at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, when the National Hurricane Center issued its final advisory on the storm.
Rain and wind from Dolly probably doomed much of the cotton crop in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. About 92,000 acres of cotton in the region was awaiting harvest but driving rains and high winds knocked bolls to the ground, making them unsalvageable, Texas Agri Life Extension agent Rod Santa Ana said. Sorghum acres damaged by rain in early July also could be doomed, he said.
After crashing ashore on South Padre Island midday Wednesday, Dolly meandered north, leaving towns on the northern tip of the Rio Grande Valley with a surprise. Officials had feared the Rio Grande levees would breach, but the storm veered from its predicted path and they held strong.
The storm dumped as much as a foot of rain in places and brought 100 mph winds.
A remnant on Thursday blew several roofs off houses and businesses on San Antonio's south side, about 300 miles northwest of where the storm made landfall. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
An aerial view of the Rio Grande Valley showed fields forming a checkerboard pattern, some inundated with water, others spared. Traffic was moving again in most places, but some residential areas were surrounded by floodwaters and debris was strewn across lawns.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who flew over the area Thursday with Sen. John Cornyn, noted possible flooding over the next five days.
"This event is not over by any sense of the imagination," Perry said.
Steve McCraw, the state's homeland security director, said more than a quarter-million people in the region were still without power late Thursday.
While the area near the border that expected the bulk of the storm was counting its blessings, residents farther north were wondering what hit them. In the La Quinta section of San Benito, people waded through waist-deep brown water with a few belongings wrapped in plastic bags held high.
Juan Delgado Jr.'s pitbulls carefully perched themselves on a table and a recliner to stay above water three to four feet deep.
"I've lived here since '87, and this is probably the eighth flood we've had here," said Delgado, who lent his boat out for salvage missions to neighbors' homes.
In Harlingen, a group of residents battled a flaming live power line lying on the driveway between two homes. Neighbors rushed to bang on doors and call for people to get out.
"Stay out of the water!" a man yelled at children playing in the muddy mix. But in a sign of returning normalcy, a fire truck arrived minutes after a call to 911.
On South Padre Island, which endured the worst of Dolly's wrath, power could be out for another day, said town spokeswoman Melissa Zamora. A 9 p.m. curfew was set for the second night in row.
Local officials said no buildings were in danger of collapse, but damage was widespread to hotels and other businesses. There were no dollar estimates on damage yet.
Residents and visitors recalled a wild ride. Bubba Zittle, 22, rode out Hurricane Dolly with five friends on a 65-foot double-decker party boat moored at the south end of South Padre Island.
"But we weren't partying," Zittle said. "It was throwing us around like a beanbag." The thrashing began at 9 a.m. and eased up at 8 p.m., he said, with eight-foot waves crashing over the bow.
North Texas residents Becky Wacasey and her husband, Charles, rode out the storm in their room at the South Padre Island Beach Resort hotel, which had many of its sliding glass doors blown out. Drapes flapped in the gulf breeze, and it appeared some tourists had barricaded broken windows by standing box springs in the openings.
"We kept saying 'where's the eye?' because that's when we were going to leave but the eye never came," Wacasey said.
Across the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, power was restored to large parts of Brownsville's sister city, and Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez said the lights would be on by the end of the day.
Gas stations and factories reopened as about 2,500 police and soldiers patrolled to prevent looting while many of the 13,000 people who had taken shelter returned home.
The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was the fast-forming Humberto, which came ashore in southeast Texas last September.
The busiest part of the Atlantic hurricane season is usually in August and September. So far this year, there have been four named storms, two of which became hurricanes. Federal forecasters predict a total of 12 to 16 named storms and six to nine hurricanes this season.
Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in San Benito, Betsey Blaney in Lubbock and Mark Walsh in Matamoros, Mexico, contributed to this report.