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Hurricane Alex threatens Gulf coast

The first Atlantic hurricane of the year has reached a powerful storm Category 2 as it nears Mexico's Gulf coast and south Texas, whipping up high waves that frustrated oil-spill clean-up efforts and delivering tar balls and globs of crude onto already soiled beaches.

Winds from Hurricane Alex strengthened to 100 mph with heavy rains that flooded roads and forced thousands of people to evacuate fishing villages.

Braving horizontal sheets of rain, Mexican marines went door-to-door in the small fishing community of Playa Bagdad, trying to evacuate villagers from rickety wooden shacks.

At least 50 people were easily persuaded to get aboard buses to shelters, but holdouts could be seen peeking through windows. One man rebuffed the navy's offer and quickly shut his plywood door.

"We're worried it's going to come hard," said Macedonia Villegas as she and her son readied their house before leaving with the marines. Surf pounded the nearby shore, and a lagoon swelled behind her home.

Emergency-preparedness workers also planned to evacuate 2,500 people from coastal areas east of Matamoros, said Civil Protection Director Saul Hernandez, who added that he was most concerned about 13,000 families in low-lying areas where there are few public utilities or city services.

The storm was far from the Gulf oil spill, but cleanup vessels were sidelined by the hurricane's ripple effects. Six-foot waves churned up by the hurricane splattered beaches in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida with oil and tar balls.

The National Hurricane Center says the hurricane's eye was about 55 miles north-east of La Pesca, Mexico, and about 105 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, and will make landfall in north-eastern Mexico on Wednesday night.

It was the first June hurricane in the Atlantic since 1995, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

Bands of heavy rains quickly inundated roads in Matamoros, a worrisome sign with Alex expected to dump as much as 12 inches of rain in the region, with perhaps 20 inches (50 centimeters) in isolated areas. The flat, marshy region is prone to flooding., Louisiana, contributed to this report.

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