This sandy island city of 60,000 in the Gulf of Mexico hunkered down early this morning for the arrival of the vicious, howling winds and mountainous surf of Alicia, the season's first Atlantic hurricane and one that had grown more treacherous throughout the night.

Devastated by a great hurricane that left at least 6,000 dead in September 1900 and lashed by lesser storms since, Galveston lay swathed in plywood and masking tape. The generous windows of its historic downtown homes were shielded against the battering winds by sturdy shutters of wood and metal.

Although most residents remained in the city, there was little activity on the broad, palm-lined streets that crisscross this finger-shaped island at the southern end of the normally busy Houston Ship Channel.

Most residents stayed close to home, listening to weather reports and avoiding the gale-force winds preceding Alicia, whose winds were reported in excess of 100 mph this morning.

Dozens of young people, in sneakers, bathing suits and slickers, cavorted along the beach front Wednesday evening, letting themselves be blown about by the winds and struggling without success to stand upright.

But they wisely stayed away from the water's edge, where Alicia churned the gulf into a lethal seascape of pounding waves and storm-tossed spray that crashed ashore with deafening force.

Palm fronds, shattered roadside signs and other storm-tossed debris littered roads and deserted beaches. Some power failures were reported along the gulf shore this morning, but all other services, including telephones, were reported functioning.

There were reports this morning that tornadoes spawned by Alicia had touched down here and near Houston's Intercontinental Airport.

Galveston's peppery mayor, E. Gus Manuel, earlier urged residents not to evacuate, but as the storm drew nearer a note of urgency crept into city hall as Manuel encouraged about 3,000 residents to leave two low-lying areas.

The National Weather Service forecast tides of at least 12 feet later this morning. Such tides would flood the causeway connecting Galveston to the mainland via Interstate 45. But as dusk fell last night and the waters rose toward the roadbed, traffic leaving the seaport remained very light.

Although minor property damage was reported and much worse was expected should Alicia come ashore, there were no reports of injuries.

Dozens of evacuation centers were opened along a 500-mile swath of the gulf coast, and thousands fled inland from the hamlets and shore villages and towns that dot this part of the country.

Joining the evacuees were thousands of the tourists who flock to Galveston from Memorial Day to Labor Day, thronging its three major beaches and long sea-wall promenade. They pour millions of dollars into the local economy, gorging on gulf seafood, fishing and rubber-necking along the sea wall from bicycle-surreys, pedaled vehicles with fringed tops that are among the city's hallmarks.

One of those staying was John Gretchen III, who told the Associated Press, "They said we should stock up on canned goods. So I went out and bought a case of beer." Gretchen, a carpenter, said he planned to "hang around because afterward there's going to be lots of money to be made."

Members of the media arrived in something approaching gale force. National Weather Service experts are here, operating a hurricane reporting headquarters in the Post Office a block from City Hall.

All but a handful of the city's famous seafood restaurants were closed. But some remained open, dishing up savory gumbo, boiled shrimp and other regional delicacies to an assortment of sheriff's deputies, policemen and longtime residents who have stuck around.

A police sergeant who had just finished a plate of fried oysters said he looked forward to "an interesting night. I haven't been busy--yet."