Ike starts to fulfil threats: "Galveston could disappear" (Feature)
By Gonzalo Espariz Sep 12, 2008, 23:25 GMT
La Marque, Texas - It was still a half day before the eye of Hurricane Ike was due to make landfall, there was little more than a strong breeze and the sky seemed reluctant to turn from white to grey, but the picture Friday had elements to promote panic.
Many roads and streets in Galveston, Texas, were already under water. And high tide was still hours away.
'Galveston could disappear,' said John Dennis.
He was not joking - his jeans, wet to his knees, spoke for themselves.
'I just picked up my wife, and now I have to return to pick up my in-laws,' he added. 'They don't want to go, but we are going to get them out whatever it takes.'
Dennis explained his family situation as he awaited his turn at the Exxon gas station in La Marque, the first town before the bridge that links Galveston Island with the Texas mainland.
The gas station was the only store that remained open within a radius of several kilometres, as was apparent in the busy flow of clients. Surprisingly enough, however, there was no shortage of goods on offer.
The supply of fuel was guaranteed, the manager promised. Still, one client would not quite believe him and took three gallons of gas at three-times their usual price.
'Today they are worth the price,' the client noted.
Despite countless warnings from the authorities, some of them almost apocalyptic, Dennis' relatives were not the only ones who wanted to stay where they were.
According to some estimates, up to 70 per cent of its 60,000 residents stayed in Galveston, a tourist city barely 100 kilometres south-east of Houston which is, under normal circumstances, a small paradise for surfers and fishermen.
Nobody was walking by, and there were just a few cars on the streets, most of them clearly belonging to reporters. However, cars parked by houses indicated that residents were indeed inside.
Staying took either great courage or great madness, because all evidence pointed to a catastrophe. Galveston is on a long, narrow island just over two kilometres off the coast, and it functions as a natural breakwater for the 4 million people living in the Houston metropolitan area.
Galveston itself is barely protected from the water by a wall and the waves were already too much for it in early Friday. And meteorologists were forecasting coastal surge of 6-7 metres for several hours.
Although Ike was a category-two hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale as it started to hit the US coast, its great width threatened to push on the sea like a category-five hurricane.
As if that were not enough, history provided additional cause for fear. In 1900 a hurricane devastated the island leaving 8,000-12,000 dead, in what remains to this day the deadliest natural disaster in US history.
However, residents of the area were stubborn.
'I'm not leaving,' said Mary Louise, pointing a finger at the sky.
For her, Ike would not be quite as bad as the authorities were saying.
'With Rita many people died trying to get out. It took them 32 hours to get to Dallas,' she said of the Texas city that is barely 500 kilometres away.
Mary Louise claimed her home would not be in trouble because it is in a high area of La Marque.
'And it has two storeys. If we need to we will climb up on the roof,' she noted, with a 12-pack of beer under her arm.
When she got to thinking about the roof she stopped short.
'I'm going to grab another pack, just in case,' she said.
Beer was in fact the only thing that was running short at the store that had become an improvised focus of social life on Friday.
'If they do not want to leave we cannot get them out by force,' said a resigned La Marque police officer.
He was watching the gas station from outside. In his area, evacuation remained voluntary, but he made it clear that his job would hardly change once it became compulsory.
Inside the store, his partner had no trouble maintaining order because the only instances of nerves were caused by high prices.
Marina, in turn, wanted to run no risks and was leaving for her family's home in northern Texas.
'We can't stay in Galveston, it would be crazy,' she said.
She pointed at her car, where three children were fighting among boxes and suitcases.
While some barricaded themselves inside their homes and others got on their way, the sky was going grey, and something scary - close to black - could be seen on the horizon. The water was still rising, and the wind had started to sound alarming.
The gas station manager warned he would be closing in the afternoon, when he was planning to leave for Houston.
Within a few hours, the giant Ike was bound to fulfil its threat.