Ike Swamps Texas, Leaving Widespread Flooding; 3 Million With No Power

Officials say storm surge was not as bad as feared.

CLEAR LAKE TEXAS, September 13, 2008— -- Hurricane Ike blew ashore late last night, but not many people along the Gulf Coast were sleeping as the storm flooded several communities in Texas and Louisiana. The Department of Homeland Security said there were unconfirmed reports of "a few deaths" in the storm.

Ike arrived in Texas as a Category 2 hurricane and made a direct hit on the city of Galveston before making a pre-dawn strike on Houston. Ike's 100-plus mph winds damaged hundreds of buildings in Galveston and quickly swamped streets, leaving much of the island city underwater.

But the storm surge that forecasters feared could top 20 feet did not materialize. In most areas, it averaged about 13 feet, according to the National Weather Service. In Galveston it only hit 11 feet.

The Houston Ship Channel that leads to the Port of Houston held up and did not, as feared, overflow onto the city streets.

"The worst-case scenario that was projected did not materialize," Gov. Rick Perry told reporters this afternoon.

But the fate of the estimated 100,000 people who ignored evacuation orders along the coast is not clear and may take days to ascertain.

Galveston Island has been sealed off from residents, Perry said, adding that anyone in need of rescue should "keep your head down...we are on our way."

The Associated Press reported later this afternoon that the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, David Paulison, said that more than 120 people had been rescued in Galveston "and probably much more than that."

Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said that there were no immediate reports of deaths, although 17 buildings had collapsed on Galveston Island and the downtown was flooded.

"The causeway into the island is in very bad shape," he told the AP. "It's draining slowly. There's just lots and lots and lots of debris in the drainage system."

Local hospitals reported a few injuries.

About 42 miles from the island, across Galveston Bay, officials in Chambers County, Texas, say that Oak Island and the city of Smith Point are under water.

"There's eight feet of water covering the community of Oak Island and I know there were some people that refused to leave that area," said Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia, who is in charge of emergency services for the county.

Sylvia said that at least one person in the county has died. A man was working on his metal roof, attempting to secure it from hurricane winds, when he drilled into a "hot wire" and was electrocuted.

The Associated Press is reporting at least three other deaths related to the storm. In Texas a woman died this morning when a tree fell on her home near Pinehurst in Montgomery County while a 19-year-old man was swept off a jetty near Corpus Christi and is presumed dead. In Louisiana, a 16-year-old boy died after falling off of a fishing boat today in Bayou Dularge, according to the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Sylvia said he believed that the city of Winnie was the hardest hit in Chambers County. A Winnie-based spokeswoman from the Chambers County Sherriff's Office said that the city was without power and phone service and had suffered flooding and extensive damage, with homes and barnes destroyed by falling trees and high winds.

Sylvia is based in Anahuac, the county seat of Chambers County. The city, he said, has seen storm surges of 18 to 20 feet.

"We have power lines ...and poles down everywhere. There's water coming up out of the marsh pushing snakes up and alligators out and into neighborhoods," Sylvia said.

For the last four hours, he said, work crews have been out pushing downed trees and other debris off county roads.

"At this point, we are in recovery mode," Sylvia said.

He said his biggest concern was that people would try to return home too early.

Most of Houston lost power and high winds shattered windows in high rises, sending glass shards showering down to the streets of the nation's fourth largest city. Hardest hit was the 75-story Chase Tower.

Parts of Highway 6, which connects Houston and Galveston, were blocked by huge piles of debris, including boats washed over the roadway from nearby canals.

ABC affiliate KTRK in Houston reported that on Highway 46, a memorial erected to commemorate the devastating hurricane of 1900 that killed 6,000 people in an around Galveston has been partially destroyed.

KTRK also reported that looting is taking place in parts of the city, with pawn shops, liquor stores and dollar stores getting hit the hardest.

The 500-mile-wide storm was comparable in size to Texas itself.

Ike was still a Category 2 storm as it moved through Houston. At one point, nearly 3 million customers were without power across southeast Texas, officials said. Houston's Hobby Airport was also without power.

This afternoon, the Energy Department estimated 2.6 million customers in Texas and Louisiana remain without power.

At an afternoon news conference, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the storm surge is still "significant" and he urged people to stay indoors. "We ask people to exercise some patience. Don't take risks. Sit tight and wait for help to arrive," Chertoff said.

President Bush today formally declared 29 counties in Texas disaster areas, allowing local communities to secure federal money to help in recovery.

Many communities are just trying to make sure everyone is accounted for.

"We don't know what we are going to find," Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told reporters. "We hope we will find the people who are left here alive and well."

Near Galveston in Bridge City, Texas, officials told the Associated Press they have sent dump trucks into the flooded streets to try and rescue people stranded on the roofs of their homes or trapped in their attics.

In Surfside Beach, the Mayor Larry Davison said, "It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it's pretty bad -- it'll take six months to clean it up."

Flooding triggered by Ike spread as far as Louisiana. Near the town of Houma, high water breached levees and flooded more than 1,800 homes.

More than 160 people had to be rescued and Gov. Bobby Jindal said he expected those numbers to grow, the AP reported.

The gasoline refineries in the region report only minor damage, but most are offline due to power outages.

The Department of Energy says more then 97 percent of crude oil production in the Gulf has been shut down. As a result, gasoline prices across the county are going up, made worse by price gouging, according to widespread reports.

Nationwide, gas prices are up an average of 50 cents a gallon, the AAA says.

The Coast Guard says a stranded freighter with 22 people on board that had to ride out the storm in the Gulf survived the night and they hope to rescue the crew later today.

On Friday, even with the storm still hours away from landfall, the Coast Guard had to rescue some 100 people from a peninsula near Galveston. Many said they thought they could ride out the storm, but rescuers said they found them stranded in waist-deep water.

It could be a day or more before full-scale search operations can kick in.

"We'll probably mount the largest search-and-rescue operation that has ever been conducted in the state of Texas, " Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman, Andrew Barlow, told the AP. About 7,500 National Guard troops have been mobilized.

More then 3,000 FEMA officials are in the region and the agency says it is sending 5.6 million liters of water, 5.5 million prepackaged meals and 230 generators to the disaster zone.

By late this evening, Ike's winds had slowed to 40 mph. The National Hurricane Center in Miami forecasted that the storm would be downgraded to a tropical depression by early Sunday as it moves further inland to western Arkansas and, later, over the Midwestern states. The center warned that isolated tornadoes were possible tonight in northeastern Texas, northern Louisiana, Arkansas and southern Missouri.

Catastrophe risk research firm Risk Management Solutions has estimated that the storm will cause between $6 billion and $16 billion in insured losses. The estimate does not include damaged caused by inland flooding or covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

With reports by ABC News' Alice Gomstyn.