Texans Take Shelter, Feel First Effects of Ike
Saturday, September 13, 2008
HOUSTON, Sept. 12 -- Hurricane Ike, a massive storm almost the size of Texas, strengthened late Friday and churned toward that state's coast, forcing the shutdown of refineries and oil and gas rigs, and leaving millions of people in and around the nation's fourth-largest city hunkered down and preparing for the worst.
The island city of Galveston was battered by fierce winds on the outer edge of the storm, while 50 miles inland, authorities braced for a potential catastrophe, should Ike made a direct hit on Houston and its 2.2 million inhabitants. The city's compact downtown is a clutch of vulnerable, glass-encased skyscrapers that house headquarters for some of the world's largest energy companies.
The storm, packing winds of 110 mph, threatened to inundate more than 100,000 homes, cut power to as many as 7.8 million people and disrupt 40 drinking-water and wastewater-treatment facilities.
"It's a worst-case scenario for us," Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said. "It's a tsunami, is what you're looking at." He said the storm surge is predicted to send 20-foot waves rushing into the Houston Ship Channel -- which leads to one of the world's busiest ports -- and 24-foot waves to Port Arthur, 90 miles to the east.
"My biggest concern is going to be the recovery after a storm of this size," Perry said in a television interview.
About 1.2 million people have been evacuated from coastal areas, including 12,500 "special-needs evacuees" such as hospital patients and the elderly, Perry said.
The brunt of the storm was focused on Galveston, where the hurricane eye was expected to make landfall early Saturday morning. Forecasters had used stark language to warn that anyone who stayed on Galveston Island risked "certain death."
Even so, about 40 percent of the city's 57,000 residents decided to stick it out, City Manager Steven LeBlanc said.
Information on how the islanders were faring was scarce Friday night, LeBlanc said, particularly from the west end, which is unprotected by a seawall.
"We haven't been able to get to the west end since early in the afternoon," he said.
Galveston police and firefighters were ordered off the streets shortly after sunset, after having performed some 50 rescues during the day. LeBlanc said he had received many calls from people who were shocked by how quickly the water rose and who fled or wanted to leave at the last minute.
Those who had not left Galveston were urged to shelter in place rather than risk the drive on the wind-buffeted interstate connecting the island to the mainland, Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. The city opened a "shelter of last resort" in a high school, but it has no cots, just food and water. About 260 people had taken shelter there by Friday evening.