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Texas prepares for monster Ike

Disaster response organizations review plans as residents begin evacuations


"We are all working together to get ready"

—Rev. Amy Elder, Texas Interfaith Disaster Response

Galveston is bracing for the possibility of a direct hit from Hurricane Ike which is now crawling across the Gulf of Mexico at about 8 miles per hour, and emergency management personnel north and south along the state's border and as far inland as Austin are getting ready for strong weather.

Ike is a large storm, said meteorologist James Franklin of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 or 4 storm by the time it makes its turn toward Texas. Sustained hurricane force winds may extend 80 miles from the center and sustained tropical force winds may stretch 205 miles from the center.

On Wednesday, the center of the storm was 400 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, but waves of two to four feet above normal were already crashing on shore along the northern Gulf Coast.

In Austin, TX, the Rev. Amy Elder, the executive director of Texas Interfaith Disaster Response, said her organization was preparing to respond to the needs of people who headed inland to escape the storm. She said that while they were ready to work with the state emergency management organizations to make sure evacuees had all they required, she knows there will be local residents who will also be affected by the storm.

"We'll have our own weather event to deal with," she said. "But in the meantime we are bringing resources together to make sure we can accommodate the needs of those who come into our community as well."

Texas governor Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration on Monday in anticipation of the destruction Ike will bring to his state. He has put the Texas National Guard on standby, along with thousands of workers who will be sent out on search and rescue missions. When storm predictors have a clearer image of where the storm will make landfall, school districts in Dallas, Travis (Austin) and Bexar (San Antonio) counties are expected to send buses to evacuate coastal residents.

At the Dallas Convention Center, the City of Dallas is expecting about 1000 evacuees. The entire metro area could see as many as 25,000. Arrangements are being ironed out with officials in Oklahoma to shelter as many as 12,000 special needs evacuees if necessary.

All this comes at a time when the Lone Star State is still hosting those who left Louisiana to escape Hurricane Gustav. Volunteers from the American Red Cross are trying to clean up from one storm while getting ready for the next, said Anita Foster.

"We just closed our shelters over the weekend, and we need to stand them back up as early as possibly tomorrow."

Kwaheri Heard, Emergency Management Specialist with the City Of Dallas, said local residents might experience some flooding and would be joining evacuees from the coast if the storm remained on its current path and was as strong as expected.

"We're finishing up with the evacuees from Gustav and revving up again," Heard said.

Meanwhile, in the Florida Keys, about 20,000 tourists along with many residents fled the islands this past weekend. Storm surges, which are expected to dissipate by Thursday there, sent waves splashing up onto US 1 the only way in or out of the Keys.

Many residents, independent and used to rough weather, chose to stay. Craig Fugate, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said that just because the storm was moving away from Florida did not mean dangerous weather conditions did not still exist. Those remaining in the Keys are being urged to stay indoors and those who have left are being urged not to go back until Friday.

Fugate said a one to two foot storm surge with fierce waves is expected to batter the Keys for the next two days. South Florida will probably get a surge as well, but the land there is higher and the peninsula is, of course, wider than the islands to the south, so damage is not expected to be extensive.

Officials in Florida are also warning the effects of Ike will cause dangerous rip currents on both the east and west coasts of Florida.

In Texas, evacuations have begun and inland cities are opening up their doors to coastal neighbors.

"We are all working together to get ready," Elder said. "We all bring different things to the table. Right now we are just coordinating our gifts so we can be prepared to respond to individual needs with the talents and financial resources that each organization can provide."

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