Hurricane Ike Claims Eight Lives, Millions Without Power

AUSTIN, Texas, September 14, 2008 (ENS) – The center of Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston, Texas at 2 am Saturday and moved inland across the Galveston-Houston area, knocking out power, water and sewer services, toppling trees and damaging buildings. The hurricane has claimed eight lives to date, five in Texas, two in Louisiana and one in Arkansas, officials said.

Three bodies were found today in Galveston, including one in a submerged vehicle near the airport. In Corpus Christi, the body of a man who was swept off a pier where he had gone to view the oncoming storm was found today.

At daybreak, the Texas Public Utilities Commission estimated that more than 2.4 million customers were without power, and the U.S. Energy Department says 400,000 others are without power in Louisiana and Arkansas.

Galveston’s Flagship hotel stands amidst
the wreckage wrought by Hurricane Ike.
(Photo by Arthur Chong)

Still, officials say the Gulf Coast was spared the worst case scenario.

“Although the impact in the city of Galveston and the Houston ship channel was not quite as bad as worst case scenario, it was still very substantial, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said late Saturday. “We’re talking about surges of 16 feet, maybe more in certain isolated inland places. This has been a very dangerous storm.”

Chertoff said 2.2 million people evacuated from Texas and more than 130,000 left Louisiana ahead of the storm.

Ike’s coastal storm surge caused flooding of up to 20 feet along the Texas coast.

In downtown Galveston, residents who chose not to obey the mandatory evacuation order, reported flood waters reaching the second floors of some buildings.

Hurricane Ike will change Galveston, city manager Steve LeBlanc told the “Galveston County Daily News” today. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Officials estimated the island suffered $18 billion in damage, said Galveston Police Capt. Henry Porretto. Damaged southbound lanes of the Galveston Causeway are closed, although northbound lanes are open, so people can leave the island, but cannot return at this time.

Ike swept over the Scholes International Airport at Galveston, which was closed Friday afternoon. It is not known when the airport is expected to reopen.

On Saturday, the hurricane passed within 20 miles of the Houston International Airport before turning toward the north-northeast. This airport is open today but planes heading to New York’s J.F. Kennedy airport and Chicago’s O’Hare are experiencing delays of about two hours due to high winds and heavy weather as Ike swings across to the northeast, heading for the Great Lakes.

Beaumont, particularly Orange County and Cameron Parrish in Louisiana, have been very hard hit with a storm surge. Lake Charles in Louisiana, is experiencing some flooding as are other parts of Cameron County.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Lopaka Mounts,
left, and Senior Airman Brandon Smith
run through a flooded portion of
Galveston, Texas, searching for residents
who need help after Hurricane Ike, Sept.
13, 2008. (Photo by Staff Sgt. James L.
Harper Jr. courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Across Texas, nearly 2,000 storm victims have been rescued in the course of nearly 500 search and rescue missions. An estimated 394 victims were rescued by air, particularly in the Galveston area where large groups of people did not obey the mandatory evacuation order.

At least 1,554 victims have been rescued via ground and water, and more than 600 victims have been assisted without need for evacuation, said officials with the Texas Governor’s Office.

President George W. Bush Saturday declared a major disaster for 29 counties in Texas, clearing the way for federal funding to individuals and local communities for recovery efforts.

A former governor of Texas, President Bush said on Sunday, “I do urge people in the affected areas to listen closely to local authorities before they attempt to get back home. There are people now surveying damage and people reporting in to the state as to the conditions there in the different communities. And it’s very important for citizens, who I know are anxious to get home, to take your time and listen, and take the advice of the local folks.”

FEMA Administrator David Paulison, who has more than 35 years of experience in emergency management, warned people who did not evacuate to “stay home.”

“Don’t get impatient,” he said. “Don’t try to get out early.”

“In all the hurricanes that I’ve seen that I’ve dealt with, most of the injuries, most of the fatalities come after the storm, not during the storm. It’s generally those people who get out too early and too soon and get into the path of danger,” said Paulison, who started as a firefighter in Miami. “Just be patient. Stay in your house and don’t go out too early until it’s safe to do so.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry had the same message for Texans today. “People in the area need to understand that our team is working ’round the clock to restore services while people outside the area need to stay away until we have reached an acceptable level of safety,” the governor said.

Accompanied by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas Director of Homeland Security Steve McCraw, the governor today surveyed storm damage from the air before visiting Galveston Island and Ellington Airfield to check with local emergency management officials.

“It’s difficult to see parts of our state in this condition, but it is the current reality and we’re working through a recovery operation that is massive in scale and complexity,” said Governor Perry.

Hurricane Ike flooded this church in
Mouton Cove, Vermilion Parish,
Louisiana. (Photo by Adam Melancon)

Across the affected Gulf states, the Red Cross and other partners are sheltering over 40,000 people in more than 260 shelters.

Fifteen points of distribution staffed by Texas Military Forces are expected to be open by midnight Sunday. FEMA is setting up points of distribution throughout the Houston area and the state will operate distribution points set up in east Harris County.

The federal government will be providing 1.5 million liters of water and one million meals a day to assist people who have been displaced.

The federal Minerals Management Service has two confirmed reports of drilling rigs adrift in the central Gulf of Mexico.

“MMS is closely monitoring these rigs, and they have been relatively stationary for several hours,” said Lars Herbst, MMS regional director for the Gulf of Mexico. “We expect tugs to be on location to secure the rigs as soon as sea conditions allow.”

From the reports of offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico, the MMS estimates that 99.6 percent of the oil production in the Gulf has been shut-in, stopping production of an estimated 1.3 million barrels of oil per day. About 91.9 percent of the natural gas production in the Gulf also has been shut-in, the MMS estimates.

Personnel have been evacuated from a total of 591 production platforms, equivalent to 82.4 percent of the 717 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Production platforms remain in the same location throughout a project’s duration unlike drilling rigs which typically move from location to location.

Personnel from 92 rigs have also been evacuated – equivalent to 76 percent of the 121 rigs currently operating in the Gulf.

Now that the hurricane has passed, all rigs and production platforms will be boarded and inspected. Once all standard checks have been completed, production from undamaged facilities will be brought back on line immediately. Facilities sustaining damage may take longer to bring back on line.

Fifteen refineries in Texas and Louisiana are reported shut down due to Hurricane Ike. Chevron reports that numerous retail stations in Houston and Galveston are still without power. They are deploying generators to repower key stations and provide fuel to customers.

Operators of the Colonial crude oil pipeline announced this morning that it has received electricity at its Texas location and has restarted its line at reduced rates.

Gulf Ports and waterways are still closed from Houston east to Lake Charles, Louisiana. There are restrictions in the Corpus Christi ship channel which limits movements to vessels with drafts less than 35 feet. In the New Orleans area, the Industrial Navigation Canal is still closed in sections.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is also closed, west of Harvey Locks, in three different sections. The Lower Mississippi River is limited to vessels with drafts less than 35 feet over a 20 mile section.

What was once Hurricane Ike is now a tropical depression. Remnants of the weather system are racing northeast at 50 mph and producing heavy rainfall with strong and damaging winds.

At 4 pm Sunday the system as located 40 miles west of Toledo, Ohio, bringing damaging winds and flooding rain to the lower Ohio Valley.

Hurricane force winds were clocked today at 75 mph in Louisville, Kentucky.

The remnants of Ike will produce heavy rainfall of one to three inches into this evening over the lower Great Lakes as it moves into the St. Lawrence River Valley by Monday morning.

Flood and flash flood watches still are in effect for coastal Texas into eastern Louisiana and central Mississippi and flood warnings are in effect from the central Gulf Coast northward into the middle Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes region.

No more hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic at this time.

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