Tense calm as Texas braces for Hurricane Ike
By Gonzalo Espariz Sep 12, 2008, 9:35 GMT
A local business is getting hit as waves crash against the sea wall before hurricane Ike make landfall in Galveston, Texas, USA 12 September 2008. Hurricane Ike is predicted to make landfall along the Texas coast as a category 2 hurricane with winds at 100 miles per hour. EPA/LARRY W. SMITH
Houston - A tense calm reigned Friday as Houston braced for the arrival of Ike, the first major hurricane in 25 years to bear down on the fourth-largest US city in full strength.
Hundreds of thousands of people were leaving nearby coastal areas to flee what the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) warned would be 'certain death.'
Jim Barry, a pizza deliveryman who was born and grew up in the Texan metropolis, was among the thousands staying stoically calm. 'Leave? Of course not. We're inland, so we reckon it won't hit us.'
The authorities do not agree. In line with the extreme precautions taken in New Orleans last week, Houston mayor Bill White ordered an evacuation of 250,000 of the city's four million people.
An indeterminate number of people had already been heading north on their own initiative since Thursday. The exodus was orderly and with few traffic jams.
It had little of the chaos seen in 2005, when the hurricane Rita hit the city two weeks after Katrina brought destruction and panic in nearby New Orleans.
'When Rita arrived, it was incredible, everyone left, there was nobody on the streets,' said Danish Baehrn, a receptionist at a hotel close the city centre.
Highways were clogged almost an entire day, and the memory of those desperate moments is still raw in Houston.
This time, most people, including Barry, decided to stock up on water, petrol and food to stay home while the hurricane passed.
Some petrol stations reported fuel shortages, but all companies called for calm, saying supplies were guaranteed thanks to hundreds of tankers in neighbouring states ready to leave for Texas if necessary.
Despite the reassurances, Ike represents a very serious threat for Houston. The NHC expects skyscrapers in the city centre to be whipped by winds blowing between 100 and 130 kilometres per hour. Some parts of the city could be inundated by torrential rains.
Texas governor Rick Perry warned of damage to roofs and walls, falling electricity pylons and trees, and power cuts, asking residents not to venture outside unless absolutely necessary.
All public and outdoor activities were cancelled or postponed in the city. All professional sport fixtures were cancelled for the weekend.