Terror storm Ike prepares to swallow Galveston (2nd Roundup)
Sep 12, 2008, 22:54 GMT
Waves splash against the sea wall as a fire truck passes by in preparation for hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas, USA 12 September 2008. EPA/LARRY W. SMITH
La Marque, Texas - Hurricane Ike Friday stalked hungrily across the Gulf of Mexico with its victim firmly in its sights.
By early Saturday morning, Galveston, a barrier island of 60,000 residents, faced certain devastation from Ike's 165-kilometre-an-hour winds. Those who refused to evacuate faced nearly certain death, forecasters warned.
'Galveston could disappear,' said John Dennis, who was waiting in line at one of the only operating petrol stations in La Marque, the first town on the Texas mainland from Galveston.
With the island already under water, nobody could walk the streets and most cars travelling on the roads were those of reporters. Cars still stationed outside of homes showed that many people remained locked inside, planning to ride out the storm despite the dire warnings.
'I'm not leaving,' said Mary Louise, pointing to the sky and suggesting that Ike would not be as rough as the authorities were making out. She insisted her home was on high enough ground in La Marque to avoid the worst of the flooding.
US President George W Bush sent an urgent appeal to stubborn residents who refused to evacuate, urging 'fellow Texans to listen to what authorities are saying.'
The lethal hurricane is bearing down on the Texas and Louisiana coasts from west of New Orleans to Corpus Christi, sending 1.2 million people fleeing for safety, Texas Governor Rick Perry said in broadcast remarks.
Ike threatens with 16- metre breakers and 7-metre flooding along the coast, local forecasters said. It could send a huge storm surge up the shipping channel to Houston, the country's fourth largest city with 4 million people and home to 15 per cent of the country's petrochemical industry, Perry noted.
'Keeping this economy going is going to be an important secondary role,' he said. 'The storm has the potential to do long=term economic impact not just to Texas but to the country.'
Those left behind in Galveston included about 1,000 inmates in the county jail on Galveston Island, along with a full staff, the Houston Chronicle reported. The sheriff's office indicated there may be an evacuation, but would not discuss it for security reasons.
Earlier, police and firefighters made their final sweep through Galveston with a large dump truck to pick up any hold-outs willing to leave.
Michael Chertoff, US Secretary of Homeland Security, told reporters in Washington that several hundred people on the Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston, had ignored the call to evacuate, the Chronicle reported.
Some have been rescued, but helicopters would soon be grounded as hurricane winds picked up, Chertoff said.
From Houston alone, 250,000 people directly in the storm surge path were evacuated. In addition, 12,500 seriously ill or elderly people were moved to safety, Perry said.
Galveston's Fire Chief Pete David told the Houston Chronicle newspaper that he expected the storm to be the worst hurricane in memory for Galveston, which is known for its nearly 6-metre-high seawall built to protect historic old homes which survived the lethal storm of 1900.
In 1900, up to 8,000 people died after a huge hurricane hit Galveston, causing the deadliest natural disaster in US history. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed about 1,800 people in New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf coast.
As of 2200 GMT Friday, Hurricane Ike was a huge category-2 storm that could strengthen to category 3 by the time it makes landfall in Galveston between 0200 and 0600 GMT, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said.
After inundating Galveston, Ike is expected to send high winds up the shipping channel to Houston, where huge window breakage is expected in its high rises.
Utility officials are bracing for power outages that could affect more than 5 million people, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency anticipated 100,000 homes would be flooded.
'It is a potentially catastrophic hurricane,' Chertoff was quoted as saying. 'We will move as swiftly as possible to relieve suffering.'
Ike has already killed at least 72 people in Haiti and four people in Cuba as it churned across the warm Gulf waters since last weekend.
Ike could produce rainfall from 12 to 40 centimetres over the next days, the centre said.
The US Coast Guard and Army gave up on the attempted rescue of a Cypriot freighter wallowing in the angry waters 150 kilometres south of Galveston.