Hurricane Ike passed over the Texas Gulf coast Saturday, leaving widespread destruction in the island city of Galveston and other areas near water. A powerful surge from the Gulf of Mexico brought in by Ike caused severe flooding along the coast all the way to southwestern Louisiana. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, officials are now trying to assess the situation and restore essential services.
Some four million people are without electrical service in the Houston area and in many places roads are blocked by flooding, debris and downed power lines. Officials are telling people in the effected areas to stay at home so as not to put themselves in danger or get in the way of rescue operations.
Texas Governor Rick Perry says the damage he saw on a tour of the area was significant. He says it will take some time to assess the damage, estimated in the billions of dollars by some federal officials. Governor Perry says the first priority now is to help anyone left in danger by the disaster.
"Today we are focused on the search and rescue aspect. In anticipation of this momemt we prepositioned the largest search and rescue operation in the history of the state of Texas in advance of the storm," said Perry. "There were thousands of personnel and vehicles that were positioned close in to where the storm struck the coast, they rode out the storm in those effected areas as safely as possible and, as we speak, there are elements of this task force that are re-entering Galveston by air, by boat and by ground."
Governor Perry sent seven 7,500 National Guard troops to the disaster zone to assist in the recovery effort. Large parts of Galveston and other coastal communities were flooded and more than 20 houses collapsed in the surge of water brought in by Ike.
More than a million people fled the coasts, both voluntarily and under a mandatory evacuation issued days before the arrival of the large hurricane. Althougb Ike remained a Category Two storm when it made landfall early Saturday, experts say it had characteristics of a Catergory Three or Four storm in that it was so large, covering an area close to a thousand kilometers. Although damage from the surge was limited to coastal areas, the storm brought high winds and rains deep inland, disrupting power, tearing roofs from houses and downing large trees.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the federal government is ready to help local and state officials with the recovery effort. He flew to the state capital of Austin, Texas Saturday to help oversee the effort. The federal government is providing five and half million ready-to-eat meals, more than five million liters of potable water and 230 generators to help areas where power has been cut. It may take several weeks to restore power to some areas.
Downtown Houston was also ravaged by the storm. Ike knocked windows out of the tallest building in Texas, the more than 300-meter-tall Morgan Chase building. The storm also brought flood waters to city streets. A landmark restaurant downtown, Brennans, burned to the ground during the storm. Firefighters were unable to effectively deal with the conflagration because of the hurricane force winds hitting the city at the time.