Massive Hurricane Ike Batters Southeast Texas

No Stranger To Disaster

The island town of Galveston, Texas, is haunted by 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 plowed across Texas on Saturday, leaving at least one person dead after a tree fell on her mobile home in Pinehurst, 40 miles north of Houston. At least 3 million homes are without power.

The storm is the biggest to hit the Gulf Coast in recent memory; it affected a 500-mile swath of coastline along Louisiana and Texas. The storm struck early Saturday as a Category 2 storm, with winds clocking in at 110 mph. Winds slowed to 80 mph as the storm snaked inland.

Authorities struggled against the elements to asses the damage and help people. More than 1 million people evacuated Texas, but tens of thousands of people chose to stay. Emergency services said they were inundated with 911 calls and asked people not to call unless they were in a life-threatening situation. Police are working around the clock with skeletal crews.

President Bush said rescue teams were ready to move in and assist those who didn't evacuate as soon as it was safe to do so.

"The storm has yet to pass, and I know there are people concerned about their lives," he said from the White House after a video conference with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and David Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Much of Houston is in tatters. Mayor Bill White said in a briefing that the water supply is low and people should use bottled water or boil water to avoid contamination. Several fires broke out as a result of downed power lines. A restaurant that was an institution in Houston for four decades was destroyed. Downtown is one of the few areas that still has power, but the winds shattered the eastern facing windows of at least one skyscraper.

By far the worst damage is in Galveston, the island southeast of Houston. Officials issues dire warnings before the storm; at one point they said people who stayed would face "certain death." Galveston is under mandatory evacuation, but as many as 40 percent of the residents there chose to ride out the storm in their homes.

The city manager said Friday that many people there underestimated the storm. One family made a last-minute escape from their house on a boat during the middle of the night. Many sited the evacuation three years ago during Hurricane Rita as their reason for staying: More people died during that evacuation than during the storm itself, and traffic jams left people in their cars for 20-plus hours.

People here say they are anxious about the impact the storm will have on the oil industry. Almost a fourth of the nation's oil is refined on the Gulf Coast. At least a dozen refineries closed down before the storm hit to avoid damage. High winds and flooding are still a threat to the refineries, and gasoline prices haven already risen.

In a statement on Saturday, Bush said the government would be monitoring gas prices to "make sure consumers are not being gouged."

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