SAN FERNANDO, Mexico -- Hurricane Alex crashed into Mexico's Gulf coast as a powerful Category 2 storm Wednesday, spawning tornadoes in nearby Texas, forcing evacuations in both countries and whipping up high waves that frustrated oil-spill cleanup efforts and pushed crude onto beaches.
Alex made landfall at a relatively unpopulated stretch of coast in Mexico's northern Tamaulipas state about 110 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, and was pushing inland at 10 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Its heavy rains and 110 mph winds lashed Mexican fishing villages, whose residents fled to the inland town of San Fernando on buses and in the back of pickup trucks.
Hundreds of people filled a storm shelter in an auditorium in San Fernando, about 50 miles from where Alex made landfall.
Engineer Abel Ramirez of San Fernando's Civil Protection and Fire Department said seven fishing villages, with a combined population of about 5,000, were being evacuated.
The civil defense office in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, said Alex's rains had already flooded around 30 neighborhoods there, and officials were using small boats to rescue some residents.
Alex spawned two tornadoes around Brownsville, including one that flipped over a trailer. No injuries were reported.
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 patches of oil and tar balls.
Meanwhile, the government pinned its latest oil-cleanup hopes on a huge new piece of equipment -- the world's largest oil-skimming vessel.
The Taiwanese-flagged former tanker named the "A Whale" is the length of 3 1/2 football fields and stands 10 stories high.
It just emerged from an extensive retrofitting to prepare it specifically for the Gulf, where officials hope it will be able to suck up as much as 21 million gallons of oil-fouled water per day.
The ship takes in contaminated water through 12 vents on either side of the bow.
The oil is then supposed to be separated from the water and transferred to another vessel. The water is channeled back into the sea.