On Galveston Island, Adrenalin Before the Storm

After tearing through the Caribbean earlier this week, Hurricane Ike is taking direct aim at Galveston and Houston. The National Weather Service warns anyone that stays in low-lying coastal areas "may face certain death" if they refuse to evacuate. Ike is expected to hit with a 20- to 25- storm surge and winds of perhaps 115 miles per hour.
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008; 6:03 PM

GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 12 -- Despite days of warnings and mandatory evacuation orders, about 40 percent of the city's 57,000 residents stayed on the island for Hurricane Ike, City Manager Steven LeBlanc said at briefing Friday afternoon.

Some had already realized the folly of their decision. Authorities conducted 12 "high-water" rescues during the day, he said. One house burned and many gas leaks were reported. The west end of the island, unprotected by a seawall, was badly chewed up through the afternoon by the storm, he said.

"I've never seen it like this," he said. "We were on the good side of Rita. We are not on the good side of Ike."

Those who haven't already left should now shelter in place rather than risk the drive on the wind-buffeted causeway 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. Already 150 people have been taken by authorities to the facility, LeBlanc said.

Although the center of the storm wasn't expected to make landfall until early Saturday, many low lying areas were already flooding Friday morning, and at midday the sea was furious and frothing, sending spray high above the sea wall. LeBlanc said he had received many calls from people who had planned to ride out the storm but were shocked by how quickly the water rose, and who fled at the last minute.

The storm chasers, however, were thrilled, at least temporarily.

"We love hurricanes," said Mark Denison, 48, of Houston. "It will be the greatest storm surge since Hurricane Carla, Sept. 11, 1961, with winds of 145 miles per hour."

Why is he here, on Galveston Island -- a barrier island that appeared to be dead center in Ike's path and where a memorial called the Praying Hand commemorates the tragic 1900 storm that killed 8,000 people in the nation's worst natural disaster?

"It reminds me how big the world is, how big God is, and how small we are. For everything we can do, this is something we can't control," he said.

Some people had less elaborate reasons for being here. Lisa Cardona, 36, was riding out the storm on the island despite the "mandatory" evacuation order.

"I have pets, plus this is my mother's property," she said as two men, one shirtless, listened to loud music from a boom box set up in her side yard. "I have a cat I'm trying to get inside."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company