Devastating Ike swamps Texas, Louisiana

September 13, 2008 9:03:46 PM PDT
Rescuers in boats, helicopters and high-water trucks fanned out along the flood-stricken Texas coast Saturday in a monumental effort to reach tens of thousands of people who stubbornly ignored warnings and tried to ride out Hurricane Ike.The storm roared ashore hours before daybreak with 110 mph winds and towering waves, smashing houses, flooding thousands of homes, blowing out windows in Houston's skyscrapers, and cutting off power to more than 3 million people, perhaps for weeks, though some had been restored by nightfall.

By evening, it appeared that Ike was not the single calamitous stroke that forecasters had feared. But the full extent of the damage - or even a rough sense of how many people may have perished - was still unclear, in part because many roads were impassable.

Some authorities feared that this could instead become a slow-motion disaster, with thousands of victims trapped in their homes, waiting for days to be rescued.

"We will be doing this probably for the next week or more. We hope it doesn't turn into a recovery," said Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Marlow in Orange County, where 600 to 700 people had to be rescued from flooded homes. He saertoff said. "Now we're going to see this play out."

Steve LeBlanc, Galveston's city manager, said: "There was a mandatory evacuation, and people didn't leave, and that is very frustrating because now we are having to deal with everybody who did not heed the order."

Because Ike was so huge - some 500 miles across, making it nearly as big as Texas itself - hurricane winds pounded the coast for hours before and after the storm's center came ashore. Ike soon weakened to a tropical storm as it made its way inland, but continued to pound the state with 60 mph winds and rain.

Officials were encouraged to learn that the storm surge topped out at only 15 feet - far lower than the catastrophic 20-to-25 foot wall of water forecasters had feared.

Preliminary industry estimates indicate damage at $8 billion.

Damage to the nation's biggest complex of refineries and petrochemical plants appeared to be slight, but gasoline prices shot up for fear that the supply would be interrupted by power outages and the time necessary to restart a refinery. In some parts of the country, gas prices surged briefly to $5 a gallon.

As the day wore on, hundreds of people were rescued from their flooded-out homes, in many cases by emergency crews that had to make their way through high water and streets blocked by peeled-away roofs, wayward yachts and uprooted trees.

But the day was already half over before the winds died down enough for authorities to begin the rescue, and the search was almost certain to be suspended before dark because of the dangers posed by downed power lines and flooded roads. A portion of hard-hit Galveston had yet to be examined.

The storm, which killed more than 80 in the Caribbean before reaching the U.S., was blamed for at least four lives, two each in Texas and Louisiana. A woman was killed in her sleep when a tree fell on her home near Pinehurst, Texas, in Montgomery County. A 19-year-old man slipped off a jetty near Corpus Christi and was apparently washed away. Terrebonne Parish coroner senior investigator Gary Alford says a 16-year-old boy drowned in his house in Bayou Dularge, La., when he fell through wooden pallets used as flooring and floodwaters rose. Alford also said a 57-year-old man died from a broken neck after he was blown over by wind.

Lisa Lee spent hours on the roof of her Bridge City home with her husband, John, her 16-year-old brother, William Robinson, and their two dogs. They dove into 8-foot floodwaters and swam to safety after a sheriff's deputy arrived in a truck and drove as close to their home as he could. Their dogs paddled to safety behind them.

"It was like a dream," said William Robinson, while his sister shivered in a blanket at a shelter at a Baptist church in Orange.

A convoy of search-and-rescue teams from Texas and California drove into Galveston - where the storm came ashore at 3:10 a.m. EDT - after bulldozers cleared away mountains of debris. Interstate 45, the only road onto the island, was littered with large overturned yachts, dead pelicans and twisted debris from homes and docks.

Homes and other buildings in Galveston and homes burned unattended during the height of Ike's fury; 17 collapsed because crews couldn't get to them to douse the flames. There was no water or electricity on the island, and the main hospital, the University of Texas Medical Branch, flew critically ill patients to other medical center.

obacco-stained beard. "I'm just tired of running from these things. If it's going to get you, it's going to get you."

He added: "I didn't say I had all my marbles, OK?"