Monster hurricane slams Texas

Record storm surge reported in Port Arthur, more than a million homes without power

GALVESTON, TX | September 13, 2008

Waters made homes in this Galveston neighborhood their own islands Friday in advance of Hurricane Ike.
Credit: FEMA/Jocelyn Augustino

Hurricane Ike roared ashore early Saturday morning, flooding coastal communities and threatening the Houston metropolitan area.

More than two million people were without power Saturday morning and utility companies were warning it may be weeks before electricity is restored. Many Louisiana residents are still without power after Hurricane Gustav which hit that state on Labor Day weekend.

Despite mandatory evacuation orders, tmore than 20,000 Galveston area residents did not leave the city. Facing what one forecaster called the "ultimate nightmare," many were asking to be rescued early Saturday morning, but it was too dangerous to attempt rescues.

The National Weather Service warned Friday that those residents who decided to shelter in place near where the storm comes ashore faced “almost certain death&rdquo if their community was not protected by a seawall.

A storm surge of 20-feet or higher may occur at the heads of bays along the coast, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center has warned. Rainfall amounts of 15 inches is predicted and tornado warnings and watches were posted in many areas Saturday morning.

"You can imagine what a 20-foot wall of water can do to a community,” Patrick Blood, a NWS meteorologist said Thursday. Waves along the coast could be as high as 50-feet, forecasters have warned.

A number of fires were reported Friday night and early Saturday morning in the Galveston area and a 400-foot tanker with a crew of 22 people was being battered off the coast when it lost its engines.

Coastal flooding was being reported in Alabama and Mississippi Thursday, far in advance of the storm. Early Friday morning, Ike had hurricane force winds extending 120-miles from the center and tropical force winds extending 275-miles wide.

In anticipation of the storm, Texas issued mandatory evacuation notices for nearly 1 million residents, but it was unclear how many have actually left. In Galveston, thousands of residents boarded buses Thursday and were evacuated to Austin.

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.

At the Dallas Convention Center, the City of Dallas was expecting about 1,000 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 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."

Even as most eyes were focused on Texas, forecasters were eying a possible tropical disturbance east of Florida that could become a tropical storm next week and threaten eastern Florida and other southeastern states.

-- Vicki DeSormier contributed to this article

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