Texans Flee Coast as Ike Threatens Houston Area
Friday, September 12, 2008
Hurricane Ike, a massive storm with enormous potential for destruction, bore down on the Gulf Coast of Texas yesterday, prompting authorities to order mandatory evacuations, close the port of Houston and shut down much of the region's oil industry.
Officials warned that a storm surge of up to 25 feet could inundate Galveston Island, scene of the country's deadliest natural disaster a century ago, and cause flooding in the Houston area.
"I cannot overemphasize the danger that is facing us," Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said at a news conference. "It's going to do some substantial damage. It's going to knock out power. It's going to cause massive flooding."
In Washington, officials sounded similar warnings, urging Texas residents to heed evacuation orders and resist complacency in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, which caused much less destruction than feared when it struck southwest of New Orleans on Sept. 1.
"This is not a storm to gamble with," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a news briefing in Washington.
Officials said Ike could also have national economic impact, driving up energy costs in the Midwest and East, disrupting shipping and curtailing production of chemicals.
Hundreds of thousands of Texas Gulf Coast residents complied with the evacuation orders yesterday, clogging roads leading inland from low-lying coastal areas such as Galveston. Long lines formed at gas stations and grocery stores as people stocked up on fuel and supplies.
Authorities in Harris County, Tex., and Houston ordered people to leave their homes in eight Zip codes, including those that cover NASA's Johnson Space Center and the nation's largest oil refinery.
The mayor of Galveston issued a mandatory evacuation order for all of Galveston Island.
Energy companies also evacuated oil and gas production platforms and rigs in the gulf and temporarily shut down nearly all output for the second time in less than two weeks. Hurricane Gustav, which struck the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 storm, also forced the companies to shut down.
The wholesale price of gasoline spiked along the Gulf Coast, rising to more than $4 a gallon amid concerns that a major cluster of refineries could be shuttered for as much as a week.
The National Hurricane Center projected yesterday afternoon that Ike's path would take it directly over Houston after making landfall at Galveston. The storm is expected to intensify from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 3 (with winds between 111 and 130 mph) by the time it hits late Friday, but its powerful winds will reach shore long before the storm's eye does, the hurricane center said.