Officials in Louisiana, Texas and northeast Mexico are preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Ike later this week. Forecasters say it is likely to make landfall on the central Texas coast, near the city of Corpus Christi, but its effects will be felt over a much wider area. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has deployed more than 7,000 National Guard troops to the state's coastal area in anticipation of the storm's arrival either Friday or Saturday. People living close to the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been advised to leave and many have, in spite of what is being called "hurricane fatigue." In the past few weeks, three major hurricanes have threatened the United States, and many people who have had to pack up and leave are now reluctant to do so again.
At this point, officials are not pressing for evacuations because it is not clear where the hurricane will strike. The mayor of Galveston, Texas, Lyda Ann Thomas, has asked people living on the west side of her city to leave voluntarily and says she will consider ordering the evacuation of her island city if the storm turns north. "If we go into a mandatory [evacuation] mode, our plans will be very different from what they are right now. This is strictly voluntary. If the people on the west end want to stay on the west end, they are welcome to do that as long as they realize that these high tides can close some roads," he said.
The biggest danger for coastal areas is a storm surge that forecasters say could be as high as six meters. Hurricane Ike weakened as it passed over Cuba. But now that it is over the warm Gulf of Mexico, Ike is picking up strength. It is now a Category 2 storm and could possibly reach Category 3 or 4 status by the time it reaches the Texas coast.
Various computer models of the hurricane's track show it coming ashore near Corpus Christi. But it is a relatively slow-moving storm and its path could be altered by atmospheric conditions in the region during the next two days. Some models show it coming north through the Gulf and hitting just southwest of Houston. No matter where it hits, Ike will likely bring heavy rains and high winds to a wide area of southern Texas, from Brownsville, on the Mexico border, to areas near the Louisiana border.
Ike killed more than 70 people in the Caribbean and devastated large parts of Cuba's agricultural zones this week. It also caused the collapse of some old buildings in Havana. Cuba state television says more than two-and-a-half million people were displaced by the hurricane.