September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike’s Surge Floods Galveston

Hurricane Ike's storm surge overwashed barrier islands on the Texas coast Friday afternoon with the center of the storm hours away from landfall.

On Galveston Island, a 6-foot storm surge pounded 17-foot-high seawalls, the Houston Chronicle reported. Water sloshed into downtown streets by mid-afternoon.

At least some residents stayed behind in spite of an unusually strong warning from the National Weather Service. Forecasters warned that anyone in one- and two-story houses faced "certain death" from the surge.

Before noon, police rescued a frail elderly couple from their two-story house, where the ground floor had flooded. Frank and Celia Urbina were taken to a shelter in the state capital, Austin.

In Surfside Beach, a tiny barrier island community 20 miles southwest of Galveston, the police chief told the Chronicle the entire island had been covered by water.

The hurricane also claimed its first known victim in Texas when a 10-year-old boy was hit by a branch as his parents cut down a tree. The Montgomery couple had been removing the tree so that it would not be a danger during the storm.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Ike's center was 120 miles southeast of Galveston and 240 miles east of Corpus Christi, moving between west-northwest and northwest at almost 12 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. The eye was expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday.

Ike remained a Category 2 hurricane with the strongest sustained winds at 105 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 115 miles from the center and tropical storm winds 275 miles..

A hurricane warning was posted for the western Louisiana and Texas coast west to Corpus Christi, with a tropical storm warning for most of the rest of the Texas coast, eastern Louisiana and Mississippi.