To Flee Or Not To Flee? Texans Decide As Ike Looms

No Stranger To Disaster

No storm haunts the island town of Galveston, Texas, more than the hurricane of Sept. 8, 1900 — to this day, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Of the 38,000 people who lived in Galveston, at least 6,000 died in the storm.

In 2000, NPR talked with survivors in its Lost and Found Sound series.

Hurricane Ike is nearing the Texas coastline. Galveston and Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, lie in the powerful storm's path.

The coast is already being whipped by high wind and waves, though Ike is not expected to come ashore until late Friday or early Saturday.

Ike is heading toward the nation's biggest complex of refineries and chemical plants. Wholesale gasoline prices jumped to around $4.85 a gallon on fears of shortages.

Across Texas, in cities like Galveston, Houston and Bay City, residents are preparing for the storm. Some are leaving, while others are staying put.

Galveston

There's a mandatory evacuation in Galveston, and local officials have used the phrase "certain death" to describe what people are in store for if they stick around. The streets are empty, but not devoid of people.

At the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, the sky was blue and peaceful, while giant brown waves smashed into the shore. Walls of water flew into the air, throwing trash and driftwood onto the street. Ellie Parker lives a block away.

"I've never seen — it's a foot over the sea wall now — so I'm nervous," Parker says. "We're in big trouble, aren't we?"

A few blocks away, James Turner was in line to buy supplies at a packed gas station. He has lived in Galveston since 1940.

"Make a long story short: My wife passed Monday," Turner says. "We was going to have the funeral this weekend. They had to cancel everything, so I'm going to stay until everything is over."

His family has urged him to leave, but he won't go until he has buried his wife. Three years ago, Turner tried to evacuate during Hurricane Rita, but he was stuck in traffic for 21 hours.

"I'm not prepared for that anymore, because I worked all night the morning before I left," Turner says. "And it was 2, 3 in the morning before I found a place I could lay down. And I eventually stayed in Houston for the rest of it."

Richard Robbins, 17, who moved to Galveston six months ago, says Ike is his first hurricane. While Turner is staying to be with his late wife, though, Robbins is leaving his father behind in Galveston.

"I didn't want to go," he says. "I wanted to stay. I was gonna stay, but then my grandmother kept calling at 5 this morning saying, 'Are y'all alright, are y'all getting out of the city?' My dad said, 'I'm not getting out of the city, but if you want me to send Richie, I'll send Richie. OK, I'm sending Richie.' "

Houston

The oil refineries that are usually busy in Houston are shut down. Most of Houston's 2 million residents hunkered down after being advised not to leave and cause gridlock. Some evacuated.

Many people from Galveston and other towns came to Houston, hoping to take shelter with friends and family.

After stocking up on water and food, Jeremy Bristol decided to stay.

"I just don't feel threatened behind the storm," Bristol says. "I just don't think the storm is going to bring on what people are saying."

Bristol is among many who came to Houston from New Orleans three years ago to escape Hurricane Katrina. He lived in the Lower Ninth Ward, not far from where the levees broke. His entire neighborhood was flooded, and the assistant pastor lost everything.

He and his family live in a brand-new house in a community called Angel Lane. It's a housing development Oprah Winfrey's foundation helped build for Katrina survivors.

Some of Bristol's neighbors boarded up the windows to their new homes Friday. Across the street, another transplant from New Orleans, Tanika Tiari, says she's staying with her son, too.

"I'm worried about it, but I think we're safe," Tiari says. "Safer than where we came from. Gonna stay."

Tiari says she survived Hurricane Katrina first in Florida, then in New Orleans. Then, Hurricane Rita came.

"I'm just tired of running," she says.

Even so, she's bracing for Ike with 5 gallons of water, food — and her car is packed just in case she needs to leave.

Bay City

Ike isn't expected to make landfall in Bay City, about 90 miles west of Galveston, until late Friday, but tropical storm wind gusts are blowing through Matagorda County.

Although mandatory evacuations are in place for the entire county, many people say they are staying put — but not everybody, like Barry Wilkerson.

"It's boarded up; I'm leaving on faith that it's going to be standing when I get back," he says. "But I'm not gonna be in there when it gets blowed away. Bye bye."

For those planning to ride out Ike, Kevin Anderson, a disc jockey at radio station KKHA, will be there to keep them company. He reports that there's a mandatory evacuation and curfew for the nearly deserted town. He volunteered to man the radio station, which sits right on Main Street.

"I decided by the time I got everybody else cleared there wasn't going to be time for me, five dogs and the wife, to get out," Anderson says. "It was better just to buckle down and stay here."

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