- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2008

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HOUSTON (AP) - Rescue crews in high-wheel trucks, helicopters and boats ventured out to pluck people from their homes Saturday in an all-out search for thousands of Texans who stubbornly stayed behind overnight to face Hurricane Ike.

The storm crashed ashore overnight and blew out skyscraper windows, cut power to millions and swamped thousands of homes along the coast.

State and local officials began searching for survivors by late morning, just hours after Ike roared ashore at Galveston with 110 mph winds, heavy rains and towering waves. Overnight, dispatchers received thousands of calls from frightened residents who bucked mandatory orders to leave as the storm closed in.

Authorities were frustrated, but vowed to get to the more than 140,000 people who stubbornly stayed behind as soon as they could.

“This is a democracy,” said Mark Miner, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. “Local officials who can order evacuations put out very strong messages. Gov. Perry put out a very strong warning. But you can’t force people to leave their homes. They made a decision to ride out the storm. Our prayers are with them.”

Sedonia Owen, 75, and her son, Lindy McKissick, defied evacuation orders in Galveston because they wanted to protect their neighborhood from possible looters. She was watching floodwaters recede from her front porch Saturday morning, armed with a shotgun.

“My neighbors told me, ‘You’ve got my permission. Anybody who goes into my house, you can shoot them,’” said Owen.

President Bush declared a major disaster in his home state of Texas and ordered immediate federal aid. Officials were encouraged that the storm surge topped out at only 13.5 feet _ far lower than the catastrophic 20-to-25-foot wall of water forecasters had feared, but major roads were washed out near Galveston, and the damage was still immense.

Residents of Houston emerged to take in the damage, even as glass from the JPMorgan Chase Tower _ the state’s tallest building at 75 stories _ continued to rain on streets below. Trees were uprooted in the streets, road signs mangled by wind.

“I think we’re like at ground zero,” said Mauricio Diaz, 36, as he walked along Texas Avenue across the street from the Chase building. Metal blinds from the tower dotted the street, along with red seat cushions, pieces of a wood desk and office documents marked “highly confidential.”

Houston Police officer Joseph Ledet was out patrolling the streets early Saturday, but stopped and simply stared as he approached Chase Tower. “It looks like a bomb went off over there,” he said. “Just destruction.”

Shortly before noon, Houston police cars prowled downtown, ordering citizens off the streets over bullhorns: “Please clear the area! Go home!”

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