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Texas braces for Ike's wallop

Dawson Voris, 9, walks Thursday through water kicked up by Hurricane Ike in a Padre Island, Texas, parking lot.

Associated Press

Dawson Voris, 9, walks Thursday through water kicked up by Hurricane Ike in a Padre Island, Texas, parking lot.

HOUSTON — Cars and trucks streamed inland and chemical companies buttoned up their plants Thursday as a gigantic Hurricane Ike took aim at the heart of the U.S. refining industry and threatened to send a wall of water crashing toward Houston.

Nearly 1-million people along the Texas coast were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm, which was expected to strike late today or early Saturday. But in a calculated risk aimed at avoiding total gridlock, authorities told most people in the nation's fourth-largest city to just hunker down.

Ike was steering almost directly for Houston, where gleaming skyscrapers, the nation's biggest refinery and NASA's Johnson Space Center lie in areas vulnerable to wind and floodwaters. Forecasters said the storm was likely to come ashore as a Category 3, with winds up to 130 mph.

But the storm was so big, it could inflict a punishing blow even in those areas that do not get a direct hit. Forecasters warned that because of Ike's size and the state's shallow coastal waters, it could produce a surge, or wall of water, 20 feet high.

"It's a big storm," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. "I cannot overemphasize the danger that is facing us. It's going to do some substantial damage. It's going to knock out power. It's going to cause massive flooding."

Perhaps the sternest warning came from the National Weather Service for residents along a gulf-facing stretch of Galveston Island and neighboring Bolivar Peninsula, which are both under mandatory evacuation orders. People ignoring the orders in single-family one- or two-story homes "will face certain death," read the statement Thursday from the local weather forecast office.

Hurricane warnings were in effect over a 400-mile stretch of coastline from south of Corpus Christi to Morgan City, La. Tropical storm warnings extended south almost to the Mexican border and east to the Mississippi-Alabama line, including New Orleans.

Most of the evacuations were limited to parts of Harris County outside Houston, as well as nearby bayous and Galveston Bay. But the 2-million residents of the city itself and 1-million in other areas of the county were asked to remain at home. Authorities hoped to avoid the kind of a frenzied evacuation that occurred before Hurricane Rita three years ago.

It's the surge

Ike's giant girth, not its strength, will likely push an extra large storm surge inland, with more water piling up on Texas and Louisiana coastal areas for a longer time, topped with bigger waves. The surge — the prime killer in hurricanes — will be far worse than a typical storm of Ike's strength, the National Hurricane Center said. And because coastal waters in Texas and Louisiana are so shallow, storm surge is usually larger there than in other regions, according to storm experts.

20 feet

The surge predicted for a large swath of Texas, Louisiana coasts

50 feet

The possible size of waves built by Ike's winds

Targeting Texas

Notable hurricanes that have hit Texas since 1900 (where the storm hit, the death totals and the damages are for Texas only; note, the National Weather Service did not start naming storms until the 1950s).

Sept. 24, 2005: Rita hits along Texas-Louisiana border; about 110 dead, many during evacuation. Damages: $4.7-billion.

Aug. 18, 1983: Alicia hits Galveston-Houston; 21 dead. Damages: $2-billion.

Sept. 11, 1961: Carla hits Port O'Connor-Galveston-Houston; 34 dead. Damages: $300-million

Sept. 4, 1933: Brownsville hit; 40 dead. Damages: $16.9-million.

Aug. 13, 1932: Velasco (Freeport) hit; 40 dead. Damages: $7.5-million.

Sept. 14, 1919: South of Corpus Christi hit; 284 dead. Damages: $20.3-million.

Aug. 18, 1916: Corpus Christi hit; 20 dead. Damages: $1.6-million.

Aug. 16, 1915: Galveston hit; 375 dead. Damages: More than $56-million, most to crops.

July 21, 1909: Velasco (Freeport) hit; 41 dead. Damages: at least $2-million.

Sept. 8, 1900: Galveston hit; more than 6,000 dead. Damages: $30-million to $40-million. Deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The storm followed a path similar to Ike's.

Texas braces for Ike's wallop 09/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 4:40pm]
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