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Hurricane Ike Downgraded to Tropical Storm, Search for Victims Begins, Preliminary Oil Industry Estimates Indicate Damage at $8 Billion

By air, boat and truck, search on for Ike victims


Sep 13, 2008, 11:56 PM EDT


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 nightfall, 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 said hundreds were probably still stranded.

By some estimates, more than 140,000 of the 1 million or so people who had been ordered to evacuate the coast as Ike drew near may have tried to tough it out. Many of them evidently realized the mistake too late, and pleaded with authorities in vain to save them overnight.

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.

Since Ike made landfall, there have been 940 rescues in Texas of people stranded in homes, vehicles and elsewhere, said Gov. Rick Perry's spokeswoman Allison Castle. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal said nearly 600 people were plucked from Ike's floodwaters since Friday and that search and rescue teams believe the largest number of rescues was behind them.

A downgraded Ike clung to tropical storm status late Saturday with sustained winds near 40 mph. The storm's core was about 100 miles southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, at 11 p.m. EDT as Ike rumbled northward out of Texas, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

The center warned residents of Arkansas, northern Louisiana and southern Missouri that Ike was still dangerous and could unleash isolated tornadoes and dump from 3 to 8 inches of rain anywhere in a wide swath of the nation's midsection.

Ronnie Sharp, 65, and his terrier-mix Princess, had to be rescued from his trailer in Orange County when water reached his knees. "I was getting too many snakes in the house, otherwise I would have stayed," Sharp said. He said he lost most everything in the flood.

After the storm had passed, National Guardsmen and crews from the Coast Guard, FEMA and state and local law enforcement authorities mobilized for what Perry pronounced "the largest search-and-rescue operation in the history of the state of Texas."

Hundreds of those rescued from inundated Orange County homes were expected to be bused to shelters elsewhere in Texas.

Some emergency officials were angry and frustrated that so many people ignored the warnings.

"When you stay behind in the face of a warning, not only do you jeopardize yourself, you put the first responders at risk as well," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff 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 waded ashore. Ike soon weakened to a tropical storm en route 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.

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.

Chertoff cautioned the death toll could rise as searchers reached remote areas.

Among deaths in Texas, a woman was killed in her sleep when a tree fell on her home near Pinehurst, and a 19-year-old man slipped off a jetty near Corpus Christi and was apparently washed away.

In Louisiana, Terrebonne Parish coroner senior investigator Gary Alford says a 16-year-old boy drowned in his house in Bayou Dularge, 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 overturned yachts, dead pelicans and 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.

President Bush declared a major disaster in his home state of Texas and ordered immediate federal aid.

In downtown Houston, shattered glass rained down on the streets below the JPMorgan Chase Tower, the state's tallest building at 75 stories. Trees were uprooted in the streets, road signs mangled by wind.

"I think we're like at ground zero," said Mauricio Diaz, 36, as he walked amid broken glass from the Chase building.

Southwest Louisiana was spared a direct hit, but Ike's surge of water penetrated some 30 miles inland, flooding thousands of homes, breaching levees and soaking areas still recovering from Labor Day's Hurricane Gustav. Officials said the flooding was worse than it was during 2005's Hurricane Rita, which hit the Louisiana-Texas line.

But there was good news: A stranded freighter with 22 men aboard made it through the storm safely, and a tugboat was on the way to save them. And an evacuee from Calhoun County gave birth to a girl in the restroom of a shelter with the aid of an expert in geriatric psychiatry who delivered his first baby in two decades. She named the baby Katrina.


Pauline Arrillaga reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Juan A. Lozano in Galveston, Jay Root in Austin, Michael Kunzelman in Orange, Brian Skoloff in West Palm Beach, Fla., April Castro, Mark Williams and Andre Coe in College Station, and Allen G. Breed in Surfside Beach contributed to this report.

Ike downgraded to tropical storm 2008-09-14 04:44:44  

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) --

The Hurricane Ike has weakened to a tropical storm as it soared over the northern Texas, leaving a few unconfirmed deaths on Saturday.

    According to the National Hurricane Center, as of 2 p.m. CDT (1900 GMT), Ike, which had a landfall on the southeastern Texas earlier on Saturday as a hurricane at Category 2, weakened to become a tropical storm carrying winds about 95 kilometers per hour, and moved north.

    Texas governor Rick Perry told reporters at a briefing that the expected worst scenario of damage from the hurricane did not happen, especially in the Houston Ship Channel.

    However, a few deaths related to the storm have been reported by not confirmed yet.

    "We have already heard some initial reports of a few deaths," said Michael Chertoff, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary. "Obviously one death is more than we want to hear about."

    Earlier media reports said that a woman has died after a tree fell on her home in Montgomery county early Saturday when she was lying in bed, which was the first confirmed death from Hurricane Ike.

    Chertoff also said that the hurricane has brought "significant surges" and damage to Texas and Louisiana.

    "This has been a very dangerous storm. There will be a lot of rain and the rain will continue to cause flooding problems," he told reporters, adding that the impact was not quite as bad as the worst-case scenario, though.

Over a million Americans evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ike 2008-09-13 05:29:05  

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) --

Over a million people have evacuated coastal Texas ahead of Hurricane Ike, which could devastate the U.S. Gulf Coast, the Governor of Texas said Friday.

    "I think that 1.2 million have already evacuated from the area," Governor Rick Perry said on CNN.

    "There is a point in time when Mother Nature will overcome any of your efforts, but we put our best foot forward and got a great evacuation going," he added.

    About 640 km of Texas and Louisiana coastline have been put under hurricane watch as Ike barreled in from the Gulf of Mexico, with the coastal city of Galveston on the front lines bracing for a direct hit and the entire coast of Galveston Bay threatened with massive flooding.

    The hurricane's landfall is expected in Friday night or Saturday morning.

    Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city with 4 million residents, is only 33 km from the bay and is also forecast to be hammered hard.

    Forecasters have painted a bleak picture of the worst-case scenario: a wall of water crashing over the Galveston Bay shoreline as the brunt of Ike comes ashore.

    That wall of water could send floodwaters surging into Houston.

    However, a slight northward change in Ike's path could spare much of the Houston area and its millions of residents from catastrophic flooding by keeping the surge out of the bay and pushing it to less populated areas.

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