| Ike moves inland in Texas bringing massive flooding
| Saturday, September 13, 2008
|GALVESTON, Texas (AFP) - Gigantic hurricane Ike barreled into Texas early Saturday, bringing a monster ocean surge and flooding coastal areas where tens of thousands remained holed up in their homes.
The center of Ike, which made landfall at Galveston Island at about 0710 GMT, was just 25 kilometers (15 miles) northeast of Houston's international airport, lashing the fourth largest US city and a major oil hub with rain and gale-force wind.
Massive damage and flooding was reported throughout the region and more than a million people fled inland.
But officials said more than 100,000 residents of low-lying areas decided to ride out the storm despite warnings from the national weather service that a wall of water up to 20 feet (6.0 meters) high could spell "certain death."
At 1100 GMT, the Category Two hurricane packed sustained winds of 160 kilometers (100 miles) an hour, down from 175 kilometers (110 miles) an hour at landfall, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center announced.
Additional weakening was forecast, but "Ike is expected to remain a hurricane through this afternoon," the center warned.
As the storm moved northwest at 24 kilometers (15 miles) an hour, gargantuan waves measuring as high as a two-story house smashed over a 17-foot (five meter) seawall in Galveston causing floods.
Strong winds raked Houston, home to a major US port and key refineries.
As Ike bore down on Texas, companies abandoned 13 refineries representing a combined capacity of 3.7 million barrels of crude oil per day -- a fifth of US refinery capacity.
In Galveston, power went out across the island just before 0100 GMT Saturday, plunging the storm-stricken city into darkness.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew starting Friday and ending Monday morning. Chocolate-colored seawater flooded the streets as the storm surge intensified throughout the day Friday, spoiling the city's potable water system.
Two blazes broke out in the afternoon. Flames shot out of an unattended Galveston home near the oceanfront, while thick smoke from a ship repair warehouse darkened the sky over the city.
Firefighters, restricted by the high water, had to let the structures burn.
All neighborhoods and possibly entire coastal communities along Galveston Bay, which reaches 25 miles (40 kilometers) inland from its namesake barrier island to the heart of Houston, "will be inundated during the period of peak storm tide," the National Hurricane Center said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described Ike's arrival as "potentially catastrophic."
"This is a monster storm in terms of the flooding potential," added Chertoff. The storm surge "is going to inundate large parts of the Texas coast."
Texas Governor Rick Perry described Ike on CNN as "a monster of a storm."
Referring to the holdouts that refused to flee the coastal area, he said on Fox News: "Individuals who think they are tougher, stronger than Mother Nature -- God be with them."
Perry said some 1.2 million people had evacuated coastal Texas ahead of the storm.
Houston, whose metropolitan area population tops five million people, is just a few miles from the bay, and destruction there and along the coast in the hurricane zone is expected to be massive.
Jack Colley, from the Texas Department of Emergency Management, said officials estimated the storm's economic impact would be "somewhere in between the 80-billion dollar and 100-billion-dollar range."
Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison also warned of the storm's economic consequences.
"The economic impact is going to be huge. People are much more concerned about this one than I have seen in a long, long time," she said on Fox News.
Oil and gas production in the Gulf was largely shut off, though the US Department of Energy said Ike appeared likely to spare most rigs and platforms there.
President George W. Bush, a former Texas governor, said he was "deeply concerned" about the threat the storm posed to the region.
Galveston has faced calamity before. The deadliest hurricane in US history, the "Great Storm" of 1900, killed at least 8,000 people when it smashed into Galveston and Houston.
Ike has left more than 100 dead across the Caribbean and sparked hurricane and tropical storm warnings from Louisiana to Mexico.
|posted by Moderator Londen time 1:20 PM