AUSTIN, Texas, September 11, 2008 (ENS) - Residents of the Houston-Galveston area and four northern counties on the Texas Gulf Coast have been ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ike, now headed directly for the city of Galveston.
Brazoria, Jefferson, Matagorda and Orange counties are being evacuated, and county offices and courthouses are closed today and will remain closed until the storm has passed.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas ordered the evacuation of the island today and the University of Galveston Medical Center expects to have all patients safely evacuated by the end of the day.
"Latest estimates show that Ike will begin moving ashore within the next 48 hours, packing winds in excess of 120 miles per hour and a storm surge that could reach 14 feet or more," Texas Governor Rick Perry said at a news conference in Austin today.
"If your house has an eve that's 14 feet, it would be completely under water," Perry said. "That's the type of surge we're talking about all through Galveston and all the way up into the [Houston] Ship Channel."
"My message to Texans in the projected impact area is this," the governor warned, "finish your preparations because Ike is dangerous and he's on his way."
"When a storm of this magnitude hits, it will do damage, it will knock out power, and it will cause flooding," Perry said, urging everyone to move inland as quickly as possible.
On a televised news conference this morning, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ordered those in low-lying areas to the east and southeast of Houston to begin evacuating by noon today.
After some initial confusion, Houston's Metro transit system is picking up all residents in evacuation zones who cannot get out by themselves. Dozens of charter buses have been brought in to take them to shelters in Dallas, far from Hurricane Ike.
METROLift will stop providing transportation at noon Friday and will only provide transportation for those needing to go to life-sustaining or medically essential appointments. No services will be provided on Saturday or Sunday.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana to Baffin Bay, Texas, just south of the city of Corpus Christi, and hurricane conditions could reach the coast within this area by late Friday, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
A Hurricane Watch and Tropical Storm Warning are in effect from south of Baffin Bay to the Texas-Mexico border.
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from east of Morgan City to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.
Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 115 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 255 miles, forecasters warned.
Above normal tides of three to five feet are already occurring along much of the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
National Weather Service forecasters say the storm also may impact the cities of San Antonio, Austin and Waco because of a high potential for tornadoes in its outer bands.
"As we speak, Ike is a Category 2 storm, but could very well intensify to a Cat 4," Governor Perry said. "That would make Hurricane Ike the strongest storm to come ashore in Texas in the past three years, but we are ready. To prepare for its impact, our Division of Emergency Management, under the leadership of Steve McCraw and Jack Colley, is executing a massive effort to assist our state and local officials in moving Texans out of harm's way.
Up to 7,500 Texas Military Forces personnel with helicopters and cargo planes have been activated, and more than 1,300 buses are available for those who cannot self-evacuate, along with more than 300 ambulances for citizens with special medical needs.
To provide immediate help in the recovery process, state and federal officials have created Texas Task Force Ike together with private sector partners.
It includes Texas Task Forces 1, Texas Military Forces, state agencies, businesses and mass care organizations, Perry said. "As soon as the storm passes over, this team will roll into the affected area and get to work supporting the local communities and their leaders."
"As we always do, we have prepared for the worst and will continue to pray for the best," the governor said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-staged life-saving and life-sustaining commodities around Texas such as meals ready-to-eat, drinking water, cots, blankets and tarps.
The U.S. Coast Guard has put ships, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, medical teams, disaster assistance response teams and other personnel on call and is urging the maritime community and boating public to track Hurricane Ike's progress and take early action to protect themselves and their vessels.
More than 13,500 National Guard members are already actively supporting recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region from Hurricane Gustav earlier this month and is poised to send nearly 40,000 additional troops to support civilian authorities and maintain order.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has 40 trained response teams equipped with field guides and mobile response equipment to support debris removal, commodities procurement and delivery, temporary emergency power, temporary housing, temporary roofing, infrastructure assessment, and support to urban search and rescue missions.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.