Coast Guard Assesses Damage Along Ike's Path

An oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. i i

hide captionHelicopter crews surveyed the damage caused by Hurricane Ike. This oil platform, in the Gulf of Mexico, remained undamaged.

Carrie Kahn/NPR
An oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Helicopter crews surveyed the damage caused by Hurricane Ike. This oil platform, in the Gulf of Mexico, remained undamaged.

Carrie Kahn/NPR

The U.S. Coast Guard is among the agencies assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Ike. Helicopter crews fly around South Texas, checking on everything from the ferry dock at Galveston to oil platforms hundreds of miles out in the Gulf.

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The agencies assessing the damage from Hurricane Ike include the U.S. Coast Guard. Helicopter crews fly around South Texas checking on everything from the ferry dock at Galveston to oil platforms hundreds of miles out in the Gulf. NPR's Carrie Kahn went along.

CARRIE KAHN: The HH-60 Jayhawk is a big helicopter. It seats six and can hold up to 5,000 pounds of fuel, more than any other helicopter used by the Coast Guard. Lieutenant Scott Wilkerson(ph) needs it for today's mission, checking to see how some of the thousands of oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf fared under Ike's fury.

Lieutenant SCOTT WILKERSON (U.S. Coast Guard): There's a route we've calculated, and it will tell us about how long it's going to take and how much fuel we're going to burn.

KAHN: Wilkerson punches in the coordinates into his laptop computer. The pilot Lieutenant Lance Leone(ph) will take the crew over oil structures to the east of where Ike's eye actually made landfall and struck with the fiercest winds.

Lieutenant LANCE LEONE (U.S. Coast Guard): We'll follow Ike's path. We'll fly out from Galveston following both sides of the - I assume the eye wall where the most damage would occur. And flight time today would be about four hours, so prepare yourselves.

(Soundbite of helicopter taking off)

KAHN: Lieutenant Leone flies out over Bolivar Peninsula, a narrow strip of land just east of Galveston. It's hard to hear the transmission over the roar of the copter, but Leone says we're passing over what used to be the populated peninsula. But below is mile after mile of empty green lots. I asked where's the damaged homes? He says, wait, you'll see them, and flies three miles east. He says, see all the rubble and debris below stuck in that line of trees? Those are the homes blown to smithereens, the broken pieces stopped only by the thick vegetation. The one intact structure below is the entire second-storey of a home which plopped down atop a small hill.

We then soon made a quick right turn and head out over open water. In minutes, we make the first of several stops to inspect oil platforms. Lieutenant Leone lowers the helicopter and circles the platform. He turns straight into the wind and hovers. The shaking is so intense, your jowls tremble and your stomach rises. The surveyors sitting next me snap photos and take notes. Remarkably, the only damage to the platform is a few railings blown off the side. We visit about two dozen structures, all seem to have fared well, no leaks or significant damage. As we head back, though, the crew sights a raft floating upside down. We're about 50 miles offshore, still.

Lieutenant Leone circles the craft. He wants to check and make sure there isn't a body trapped underneath. A crew member is clipped to the steel winch and lowered through the open door. He finds no one below, but he pulls a switchblade and slashes the raft five times. He wants to make sure it sinks. That way, another Coast Guard crew won't be called out to investigate. As the sun set and a beautiful orange moon rose in the east, the crew touched down. In just 12 hours, though, they'll be back up in the sky surveying more damage in another part of South Texas. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Houston.

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