Deadly Ike Eyes Texas After Tearing Through Cuba

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), September 11, 2008

Thousands of people fled the Texas Gulf coast Thursday as deadly Hurricane Ike bore down, growing in power after ravaging Cuba and the Caribbean.

President George W. Bush declared an emergency in Texas, freeing up federal aid to boost local efforts. Gov. Rick Perry, who ordered special disaster preparations, said state officials had begun evacuating ill, elderly and poor residents.

Ike, which killed more than 100 people across the Caribbean, could slam into the Texas coast immediately south of the port of Galveston late Friday or early Saturday, the National Hurricane Center forecast.

It was listed as a category two storm but predicted to rise to three on the five-tier Saffir-Simpson scale, it said.

"Ike could become a major hurricane today or on Friday," the NHC said.

While residents of parts of Galveston and other coastal areas were required to relocate, officials in the Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi said they were reluctant to order a mandatory evacuation.

"We have a huge oil and gas industry presence here with refineries and oil and gas processing facilities," said city spokeswoman Kim Womack.

"We don't want to issue a mandatory evacuation because that would completely shut down operations and make recovery very difficult."

The bulk of U.S. oil refineries are in the Gulf of Mexico and Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell (RDSA) had said its personnel would be evacuated from offshore installations by Wednesday.

Residents, however, prepared for the storm even if they were reluctant to get out of town.

Galveston neighbors Celia Padnos and Leslie LeGrande said they were jaded after evacuating before Hurricane Rita in 2005 veered away at the last minute. They plan to say at home if Ike is anything less than a category three hurricane.

"I hate driving and I ended up driving for 14 hours to Austin (normally a 3.5 hour drive) with one cat, all my family photos, food and two young children in the car," said Padnos, recalling Hurricane Rita.

"Unless it's really bad, we don't want to go anywhere," said LeGrande.

If forced to evacuate, LeGrande hopes that hotels will be available - during the Rita scare, many hotels were already filled with people who had fled Hurricane Katrina, she said.

At 0900 GMT Thursday, Ike's center was located about 995 kilometers (620 miles) east of Brownsville, Texas, and was moving northwest at nearly 15 kilometers (nine miles) an hour.

Ike packed winds of near 160 kilometers (100 miles) an hour, with higher gusts, though it is expected to gain strength over the next 24 hours as it travels over the warm open waters of the Gulf.

The Hurricane Center described Ike as "a large tropical cyclone" with hurricane force winds extending outward up to 185 kilometers (115 miles).

Earlier this week, Ike left a trail of destruction as it raged over Cuba and killed more than 100 people across the Caribbean.

In Haiti, several hundred were killed by a rapid succession of powerful tropical storms and hurricanes over the past month including Ike.

The United States said it will provide $10 million in aid to help Haiti recover from deadly tropical storms, while the United Nations has called for some $107 million in humanitarian aid.

On Wednesday, Haitian President Rene Preval welcomed the international efforts.

"It warms the heart to see the friends of Haiti show their solidarity toward the Haitian people," he said on national television.

Copyright (c) 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Read more on preparations for Hurricane Ike in Rigzone's Special Coverage Preparing for Ike to Strike.