Saturday, September 13, 2008

What people say about Hurricane Ike ? ( 2)

source :

HOUSTON, Texas — The eye of Hurricane Ike, a monstrous storm with winds of at least 110 mph, was just south of the Galveston area at about 3 a.m. ET Saturday.

Earlier, waves were crashing over a 17-foot-high sea wall in Galveston.

In darkened Houston, firefighters fought a losing battle to save Brennan's, a landmark restaurant near downtown.

Emergency personnel already had been busy in Galveston, where fire crews had rescued more than 300 people, Fire Chief Michael Varela said. "We were going street by street seeing people who were trying to escape the flood waters," he said. "I'm assuming these were people who made the mistake of staying."

Those who didn't evacuate "are on their own. We have made every plea we can. Once the storm gets here, we can't put our rescue personnel in danger," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

Many people not in the evacuation areas were asked to stay put to keep highways clear. "Run from the water, hide from the wind," Emmett says. "Hunker down, we say here in Texas."

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As of 3 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center reported the center of the stom was about 10 miles southeast of Galveston with 110 mph winds. It could be a Category 3 hurricane — with winds of more than 111 mph — when it makes landfall, forecasters said.

Ike is a huge storm, with hurricane-force winds extending 120 miles from its center.

By early Saturday, at least 4.5 million people were without electricity in the Houston area, the Chronicle reported on its website.

Gov. Rick Perry asked President Bush for a "wide-reaching emergency declaration" for 88 counties in Ike's path. Perry said a declaration would ensure 100% reimbursement for storm-related costs.

Houston and Harris County officials instituted a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew through Sunday for the nine zip codes in low-lying areas where evacuations were mandatory. Violators could be arrested, the city said in a statement.

Residents of Galveston, a barrier island 50 miles south of downtown Houston, were warned by the National Weather Service they could "face certain death," and were among the 1 million coastal residents ordered to flee.

Rescue crews worried daybreak would bring a nightmare scenario of victims who had defied evacuation orders. As night fell, 911 calltakers were beseiged with pleas for help.

"We don't know what we are going to find. We hope we will find the people who are left here alive and well," Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. "We are keeping our fingers crossed all the people who stayed on Galveston Island managed to survive this."

Galveston spokeswoman Mary Jo Naschke said about 25% of the city's 57,000 residents had not left.

"Sometimes you have new residents who don't understand the power of mother nature," she said.

President Bush urged "my fellow Texans to listen carefully to what authorities are saying."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said planes, high-water vehicles and boats are ready to rescue people after the storm. "The size, strength and current path of the storm have the potential to produce catastrophic effects," Chertoff said.

David Paulison, the head of FEMA, said the federal government has more than 3,500 emergency workers in the region.

"We have surrounded Houston and the area with prestaged water, food, cots, blankets and tarps ... to make sure as soon as the winds die down we can respond as quickly as possible to the needs of the citizens," Paulison said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard aborted, at least temporarily, an attempt to rescue 22 mariners trapped on a 584-foot bulk freighter that broke down about 90 miles southeast of Galveston. The Coast Guard had been on at least 16 rescue missions related to the storm by early Friday.

The storm threatens millions of people with wind, rain and a wall of water up to two stories high.

The Interior Department said 97% of Gulf of Mexico oil production and 94% of natural gas production have been shut down due to the storm. The Port of Houston, the nation's second largest, also closed, and airports were shutting down.

Galveston was wiped out 108 years ago in a hurricane that killed 8,000 — the deadliest storm in U.S. history.

With Ike rolling in, most of the city's homes and businesses were boarded up. As winds kicked up and waves crashed over the sea wall, Sam Shah finally decided to evacuate the Comfort Inn & Suites.

"Everything is flooding," said Shah, planning to head to his home in Sugarland. "I've been here 15 years, never seen water this high."

Robert Schumake, 53, had no plans to leave. He stood on the seawall, his long beard and a large American flag whipping in the wind.

"I'm excited for the storm," said Schumake as waves crashed over the sea wall and covered his feet. "I've lived here nine years, and I never seen this before."

Ian Lidman, 40, sat on his front porch and drank a beer. With only a motorcycle for transportation, he said he can't evacuate his three dogs so he's staying.

Lidman's main worry was about the storm surge, which forecasters say could move houses off their foundations in some coastal communities. "I've got an ax," Lidman said. "I could chip a hole in the roof if I need to."

Well before the storm's arrival, water was already knee-deep in the streets of Surfside Beach, a small coastal town of about 805. Police were going around in a dump truck trying to get holdouts to evacuate while there was still time. The police chief asked one stubborn couple to write their names and Social Security numbers on their forearms in black magic marker "in case something bad were to happen."

They soon changed their minds, and police were wading an aluminum boat through floodwaters to rescue them.

Others who wouldn't leave said they were worried that their homes or businesses would be vandalized.

Henry Garcia, who owns a video game room called the Big Easy in LaMarque, Texas, about four miles from the coast, said his friends don't want to leave their homes because "it's not the best neighborhood."

"I understand because it's really the reason I'm sitting here inside the business," he said as he ate hot dogs and nachos with his friends.

Garcia said down the road from him, a store owner evacuated Thursday night, and it wasn't long before police reported his alarm went off. "Someone had gone in there to vandalize," Garcia said.

Most metropolitan residents who weren't in evacuation zones appeared to be heeding orders and staying put. Edgar Ortiz, a 55-year-old maintenance worker from east Houston, said leaders were providing wise advice, considering what happened during Rita, but said people were inclined to make up their own minds.

"I guess people tend to want to stay where they're at," he said as he shopped for bottled water, toilet paper and canned goods. "A lot of people don't want to leave. I don't want to leave. You may be taking a risk, but that's just how it is."

If the storm's eye hits the coast just south of Galveston, greater Houston — home to 4 million — would be hit by Ike's stronger, eastern side, Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Moore said.

Hurricane warnings were in effect over a 400-mile stretch of coastline from south of Corpus Christi to Morgan City, La., and many residents who fled Hurricane Gustav two weeks ago only to be spared in East Texas were packing up again Thursday.

Mike and Sonja Crutcher of Brazoria, Texas, who live 20 miles from the coast, loaded their minivan and drove west on Interstate 10. "I don't like the sound of wind blowing at 100 miles an hour for eight hours straight," said Sonja Crutcher, 39.

They worried about what lay ahead and what they left behind. Mike Crutcher, 47, a nuclear power plant systems engineer, wondered if their house would survive: "I did a lot of work on it myself. All that work I did, it looks like it was for nothing."

The Census Bureau said Friday based on the projected path of Ike an estimated 13 million people in 132 counties along the Gulf Coast could face hurricane and tropical storm conditions.

Contributing: Doyle Rice and Bob Swanson in McLean, Va.; Judy Keen in Chicago; Associated Press

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