September 12, 2008 in Nation/World

Houston hunkers down as Hurricane Ike ramps up

By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Traffic lines Interstate 45 leaving Houston as Hurricane Ike approaches the Texas Gulf Coast on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Red Cross going into debt

 NEW YORK – The wave of storms battering the U.S. has plunged the American Red Cross deep into debt as it rushes to prepare for Hurricane Ike.

 Gail McGovern, the charity’s president, said even a request for federal funding is under consideration as the Red Cross seeks to become less dependent on spontaneous donations that arrive only in the wake of huge disasters.

 As of last week, when Ike was still a distant threat, the Red Cross said it has raised only $5 million to cover costs from Hurricane Gustav that will total at least $40 million. It has borrowed money to meet those bills.

Associated Press

HOUSTON – Cars and trucks streamed inland and chemical companies buttoned up their plants Thursday as a gigantic Hurricane Ike took aim at the heart of the U.S. refining industry and threatened to send a wall of water crashing toward Houston.

Nearly 1 million people along the Texas coast were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm, which was expected to strike late today or early Saturday. But in a calculated risk aimed at avoiding total gridlock, authorities told most people in the nation’s fourth-largest city to just hunker down.

Ike was steering almost directly for Houston, where gleaming skyscrapers, the nation’s biggest refinery and NASA’s Johnson Space Center lie in areas vulnerable to wind and floodwaters. Forecasters said the storm was likely to come ashore as a Category 3, with winds up to 130 mph.

But the storm was so big it could inflict a punishing blow even in those areas that do not get a direct hit. Forecasters warned that because of Ike’s size and the state’s shallow 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.

“It’s a big storm,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. “I cannot overemphasize the danger that is facing us.”

Perhaps the sternest warning came from the National Weather Service for residents along a Gulf-facing stretch of Galveston Island and neighboring Bolivar Peninsula, which are both under mandatory evacuation orders. People ignoring the orders in single-family one- or two-story homes “will face certain death,” read the statement Thursday from the local weather forecast office.

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