Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Ike: Residents 'Face Certain Death' If They Don't Flee

Jacqui Goddard
Hurricane Ike is storming towards the Texas coastline this morning, prompting evacuation warnings for up to one million people as weather experts predict it will smash into the coast at 7am UK time tomorrow. The National Weather Service for the Gulf coast warn residents of one or two storey homes "will face certain death" if they do not follow evacuation orders.

Satellite pictures of the hurricane show it churning across the Gulf of Mexico on track to make landfall tomorrow between the cities of Corpus Christi and Houston – a zone more than 200 miles (320km) wide.

Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, called on residents in evacuation zones to obey orders to leave and said that authorities wanted to provide “buses, not body bags".

"These are people’s lives that are at stake here. It’s a big storm,” he 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.” Ike, and the storms that preceded it, has caused destruction across the Caribbean, leaving 326 people dead in Haiti and devastating swaths of Cuba. President Préval of Haiti called for helicopters to help to deliver urgently needed food and drinking water to cut-off areas and compared the destruction to that wrought on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “This is Katrina in the entire country, but without the means that Louisiana had,” he said. Cuba has turned down US relief handouts, but is asking for trade restrictions to be lifted so that it can buy American materials to assist in its recovery Ike comes after Hurricane Gustav, which hit Louisiana last week, weakening before it made landfall and sparing the region catastrophe. Even as Texans prayed for a similar last-minute reprieve emergency officials were preparing for an onslaught.

In three counties south and east of Houston, including the resort island of Galveston, authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders, concerned that Ike was following a similar track to a hurricane that struck the area 108 years ago, killing 6,000 people in the deadliest US natural disaster. Governor Perry made 1,350 buses available to help those without transport to move inland, away from rivers that will swell rapidly, lowlying areas and marshlands, where a storm surge of up to 20ft is expected.

Hurricane-force winds extended 115 miles from the core of Ike last night and tropical storm-force winds reached another 160 miles beyond that. It is predicted to pummel the Texas coastline with winds of up to 130mph.

Forecasters warned that because of Ike’s size and the state’s shallow coastal waters, it could produce a surge, or wall of water, 20ft high, and waves of perhaps 50 ft. It could also dump 10 inches or more of rain.

The Nasa Johnson Space Centre, home to the mission control room for the International Space Station, shifted operations to an emergency base in Alabama. Military personnel at US Navy air stations began flying aircraft out. More than 2,500 inmates in prisons along coastal areas were sent to facilities inland. Hospitals in Corpus Christi hired helicopters to fly up to 50 sick babies and children out of the potential impact zone and other hospitals and nursing homes were evacuated. Up to 7,500 members of the National Guard were on standby.

Oil rigs, platforms and refineries shut down in preparation for Gustav last week have mainly remained closed because of the threat from Ike, disabling about 77 per cent of oil production in the Gulf and 65 per cent of its gas production capabilities.

Sheriff Charles Wagner, of Brazoria County, southwest of Houston, said: “One of the things that the public has to understand if they decide to stay – there will be a period of time during this storm when they will absolutely be on their own. There will be no medical services; there will be no fire department; there will be no law enforcement, groceries, gasoline, drugs, electricity.”

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