By JUAN A. LOZANO
Associated Press Writer
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Surfers and joggers hit the beach Tuesday after Tropical Storm Edouard brushed past and caused little damage, while inland farmers hoped the storm's remnants would help ease drought conditions.
"Galveston is open for business, and we certainly welcome the tourists back to the island," said City Manager Steve LeBlanc, whose island city of about 60,000 typically doubles in population during the peak tourist months.
Forecasters had feared Edouard could become a hurricane, and both Texas and Louisiana prepared for an emergency.
But when it made landfall east of Galveston and west of the Louisiana border, between the small coastal town of High Island and Sabine Pass, winds gusted as high as 65 mph, 9 mph below hurricane strength. The storm then weakened to a tropical depression as it moved toward Houston Tuesday afternoon.
"Texas is grateful that this storm did not escalate to hurricane strength before making landfall on our shores," said Gov. Rick Perry.
Inland Texas and western Louisiana prepared for several inches of rain that could help ease drought conditions.
Ranchers and farmers in central and southeastern Texas along Interstate 10 would welcome the relief, said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state's climatologist at Texas A&M University.
Parts of those areas remain in exceptional drought, according to last week's U.S. Drought Monitor map. Some ranchers are finding it difficult to feed their livestock.
The rain "will help in the short term at least," Nielsen-Gammon said. "You'll see some green-up. Ideally, if you get enough rain you can sustain a good bit of growth and maybe get some hay out of it."
Jim McAdams, a fourth-generation rancher and past president of the National Cattleman's Beef Association, wasn't at home Tuesday to see if rain from Edouard was falling on his ranch just southeast of San Antonio.
He got an inch or so from Hurricane Dolly a couple of weeks ago, which greened up his pastures pretty well, he said. It's been a tough year, he said.
"Overall it's just one of those years everybody's just hanging on living from one rain to the next," he said.
Galveston and surrounding areas certainly were grateful they dodged the fate of another Texas tourist hotspot, South Padre Island, hit by the 100-mph winds of Dolly last month.
Earlier forecasts had the center of the storm passing over Galveston, but the only noticeable damage after the storm was to a tree on the city's golf course.
A few hours later, surfers were hitting the waves and beaches were filled with joggers and people walking their dogs as they would on any other summer day during tourist season.
Houston homebuilder Rodney Graham, who like a lot of vacationers stayed through the storm with his family, watched his 10-year-old daughter Haley ride a wave on her surfboard.
"I grew up in Houston," he said. "A tropical storm that has 45-mile-per-hour winds is just a rainstorm."
At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm's center was about 35 miles north-northeast of Houston and moving 9 mph slowly west-northwest toward central Texas. Wind speeds had dropped to about 35 mph.
Edouard skirted the Louisiana coast on its way to Texas, raising tides and pushing water into bayous and yards. Residents of low-lying areas south of the Intracoastal Waterway in Cameron were ordered to evacuate Monday but were expected to be able to return later Tuesday.
CenterPoint Energy said 13,000 customers in eastern Harris County and Chambers County were still without electricity. Entergy Texas has more than 16,700 customers in southeast Texas without power.
Houston's two major airports, Hobby and Bush International, operated on Tuesday with some flight delays.
Edouard cut production about 6 percent from the Gulf's normal daily oil output, the U.S. Mineral Management Service said. Natural gas production was cut by about 12 percent.
Oil and gas companies evacuated 154 of the 717 manned platforms and nine of the 125 exploratory rigs in the Gulf.
Associated Press Writers Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, John Porretto and Ana Ley in Houston, Regina L. Burns and Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Christopher Sherman in McAllen and Mary Foster in New Orleans contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)