Ike Roars Through Gulf Coast

Hurricane Ike pulverized the Gulf Coast with maximum winds of about 100 mph and left a wide swath of flooding and devastation in its wake.
By Keith Richburg, Joel Achenbach and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 14, 2008

HOUSTON, Sept. 13 -- Texas and Louisiana on Saturday began a massive recovery effort, including searching for the stranded and missing, after Hurricane Ike, a colossal storm stretching about 600 miles, pulverized the Gulf Coast. Winds reached about 100 mph as the storm flattened houses, ripped the glass windows from downtown office buildings and left a wide swath of flooding and devastation in its wake.

The Category 2 hurricane made landfall at 2:10 a.m. local time and plowed across eastern Texas before being downgraded 11 hours later to a tropical storm with 60-mph winds. In its wake, Ike left about 2.4 million Texans without power, in addition to 200,000 without power in Louisiana.

Texas officials and utility company spokesmen said it could be weeks before electricity is fully restored. At the moment, they said, the major concern is dealing with downed power lines and restoring service to critical facilities, such as hospitals.

President Bush declared 29 counties in Texas as well as part of Louisiana disaster areas and planned to meet on Sunday with FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison and other officials about providing federal assistance.

With one initial estimate putting Ike's insured damage at $10 billion, Ike could become the nation's third-costliest storm, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Andrew in 1992, and tied with Alicia in 1983, previously the costliest storm to hit Houston in recent memory.

In Galveston, the worst-hit city and the place where the massive storm's eye made landfall, authorities were still unsure whether there were fatalities among the thousands of residents who ignored warnings to flee. Rescue workers were moving block by block across 32-mile Galveston Island and had found no fatalities by the 11-mile marker. But they were concerned that there could be deaths on the more devastated western side of the island, which still lay ahead.

"We haven't even gotten to the west end, and I know the west end is totally devastated," City Manager Steve LeBlanc said. Two apartment buildings in the eastern part of town collapsed. "We don't know if there are people in there or not," LeBlanc said.

The physical destruction on Galveston Island was widespread. About 17 structures had collapsed -- 10 because of fires -- and among the buildings lost was a historic landmark, the Balinese Room, a storied, 79-year-old nightclub on the Gulf of Mexico that once doubled as a casino and during its heyday in the 1950s hosted Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and George Burns, among others.

About 100 people had been rescued by police and firefighters since the storm began, LeBlanc estimated at an afternoon news conference.

One of the two roads out of town, the Galveston Causeway, was littered with trees, boats and debris, and had buckled in places; still, a few vehicles managed to make it off the island, he said. No one was allowed to drive onto the island, and the island was effectively sealed to all but rescue crews.

The rescue operation consisted of 52 helicopters, including five Black Hawks, coming from the Coast Guard and the Texas National Guard, and 7,500 Guard troops, Gov. Rick Perry told reporters Saturday at the state's emergency operations center in Austin, the capital.

"Today, we're focused on the search-and-rescue aspect," Perry said. "We prepositioned the largest search-and-rescue operation in the history of the state of Texas."

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