Ike Bringing “Certain Death” to Texas

Some residents think twice about riding out the storm

The warning could not be more clear to the residents of the Gulf Coast: "Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single-family one- or two-story homes may face certain death."

One holdout was Bobby Taylor of Surfside Beach, who today insisted on going back to his flooded property -- while his wife was preparing to leave.

But by late morning, Taylor waded along main street wearing a red slicker and dragging a blue kayak.

His wife greeted him joyously in the street. She had just been told that police had asked her husband to write his name and Social Security number in Magic Marker on his arm -- in case he died.

Bobby Taylor says he tried to get his neighbors to come out with him and even offered to tow them in his two spare kayaks, but they couple wouldn't budge.

Elizabeth Taylor told The Associated Press she'll now pray for those neighbors.

As a Hurricane Ike steams through the Gulf of Mexico toward the Texas coast, officials in America's fourth-largest city made a bold decision: Instead of fleeing, residents here would stare down the storm.

Homeowners in Houston should board up windows, clear the decks of furniture and stock up on drinking water and non-perishable food. But whatever they do, officials warned, residents should not flock to the roadways en masse, creating the same kind of gridlock that cost lives — and a little political capital — when Hurricane Rita threatened Houston in 2005.

"They are in a safer, better position if they stay where they are," Houston Mayor Bill White said.

Ike was forecast to make landfall early Saturday southwest of Galveston, a barrier island and beach town about 50 miles southeast of downtown Houston and scene of the nation's deadliest hurricane, the great storm of 1900 that left at least 6,000 dead.

"It will be, in candor, something that people will be scared of," White warned. "A number of people in this community have not experienced the magnitude of these winds."

Though Houston didn't evacuate, low-lying communities predicted to be the bullseye of the storm did. People on the island were ordered evacuated Thursday, joining residents of at least nine zip codes in flood-prone areas of Harris County, in which Houston is located, along with hundreds of thousands of fellow Texans in counties up and down the coastline.

The decision is a stark contrast to how emergency management officials responded to Hurricane Rita in 2005. As the storm closed in three years ago, the region implemented its plan: Evacuate the 2 million people in the coastal communities first, past the metropolis of Houston; once they were out of harm's way, Houston would follow in an orderly fashion.

Most metropolitan residents appeared to be heeding orders and staying put. Edgar Ortiz, a 55-year-old maintenance worker from east Houston, said leaders were providing wise advice, considering what happened during Rita, but said people were inclined to make up their own minds.

"I guess people tend to want to stay where they're at," he said as he shopped for bottled water, toilet paper and canned goods. "A lot of people don't want to leave. I don't want to leave. You may be taking a risk, but that's just how it is."

Ike would be the first major hurricane to hit a U.S. metropolitan area since Katrina devastated New Orleans three years ago. For Houston, it would be the first major hurricane since Alicia in August 1983 came ashore on Galveston Island, killing 21 people and causing $2 billion in damage.

Ike is so big, it could inflict a punishing blow even in those areas that do not get a direct hit. Forecasters warned because of Ike's size and the shallow Texas coastal waters, it could produce a surge, or wall of water, 20 feet high, and waves of perhaps 50 feet. It could also dump 10 inches or more of rain.

At 5 a.m. EDT Friday, the storm was centered about 265 miles southeast of Galveston, moving to the west-northwest near 13 mph. Ike was a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds that had increased slightly to near 105 mph.

Hurricane warnings were in effect over a 400-mile stretch of coastline from south of Corpus Christi to Morgan City, La., and many residents who fled Hurricane Gustav two weeks ago only to be spared in East Texas were packing up again Thursday.

Tropical storm warnings extended south almost to the Mexican border and east to the Mississippi-Alabama line, including New Orleans.

The oil and gas industry was closely watching the storm because it was headed straight for the nation's biggest complex of refineries and petrochemical plants. The upper Texas coast accounts for one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity.

The first rain and wind was set to arrive later Friday. Residents were scurrying to get ready, and hardware stores put limits on the number of gas containers that could be sold. Batteries, drinking water and other storm supplies were running low, and grocery stores were getting set to close. Houston was slowly shutting down, and people beginning to head inside. The only thing to do was wait and see what Ike had in store.

"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."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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