- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2008

OVER THE GULF COAST | Entire swaths of land from southern Louisiana to Gilchrist, Texas, have been flooded or destroyed by Hurricane Ike, which swept through the area early Saturday morning.

“There was devastating beach flooding from Galveston north to Port Arthur,” said Tim Hackett, an air interdetection agent of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection´s Air and Marine division.

The division flew a second flight in its P3 Orion long-range tracker over the Gulf region Sunday to record video and high-resolution photos of the hurricane damage for federal agencies. The Washington Times went along for the flight.

“You can definitely see a lot of destruction,” said Timothy Flynn, detection enforcement officer of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine division as he took video of the damage.

A portion of land north of Galveston, Texas, was “wiped clear” by the hurricane’s eye. Streets once filled with houses were emptied out by the storm, leaving just foundations.

The flooding appeared most severe in the Lake Charles area of Louisiana. A few houses built on stilts dotted the landscape. Although those complexes appear to have made out with less flooding than its neighbors, all roads leading to them were completely flooded.

Some oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico appear to have sustained some minor damage, according to the CBP. Long oil slicks were spotted along the Texas-Louisiana coast.

The Galveston airport was flooded Saturday and was partially underwater Sunday. Two major roads into the island were either flooded or destroyed.

Meanwhile on Sunday, rescuers said that they had saved nearly 2,000 people from the waterlogged streets and splintered houses left behind by Ike. Glass-strewn Houston was placed under a weeklong curfew, and millions of people in the storm’s path remained in the dark.

As the floodwaters began to recede from the first hurricane to make a direct hit on a major U.S. city since Katrina, authorities planned to go door to door into the night to reach an untold number of people across the Texas coast who rode out the storm and were still in their homes.

Many of those who did make it to safety boarded buses without knowing where they would end up and without knowing when they could return to what was left of their homes, if anything.

“I don’t know what I’ll be coming back to. I have nothing,” said Arma Eaglin, 52, who was waiting for a bus to a shelter in San Antonio after leaving her home and wading through chest-deep water.

The hurricane also battered the heart of the U.S. oil industry: Federal officials said Ike destroyed a number of production platforms, although it was too soon to know how seriously oil and gas prices would be affected.

Ike was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved into the nation’s midsection and left more harm in its wake. Roads were closed in Kentucky because of high winds. As far north as Chicago, dozens of people in a suburb had to be evacuated by boat. Two million people were without power in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The death toll from the storm rose to 25. Five were in the hard-hit barrier island city of Galveston, including one body found in a vehicle submerged in floodwater at the airport.

Ike’s 110 mph winds and battering waves left Galveston without electricity, gas and basic communications, and officials estimated it may not be restored for a month.

“We want our citizens to stay where they are,” Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. “Do not come back to Galveston. You cannot live here at this time.”

Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, was reduced to near-paralysis in some places. Power was on in downtown office towers Sunday afternoon, and Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, was unscathed and remained open. Both places have underground power lines.

Its two airports, including George Bush Intercontinental, were set to reopen Monday with limited service, but schools were closed until further notice. The business district was shuttered.

Five people were arrested at a pawn shop north of Houston and charged with burglary in what Harris County Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. John Martin described as looting, but there was no widespread spike in crime.

Authorities said Sunday afternoon that 1,984 people had been rescued, including 394 by air. In addition to people who were literally plucked to safety, the figure includes people who were met by crews as they waded through floodwaters trying to get to dry ground.

Still others chose to remain in their homes along the Texas coast even after the danger of the storm had passed. There was no immediate count Sunday of how many people remained in their homes, or how many were in danger. The Red Cross reported 42,000 people were at state and Red Cross shelters Saturday night.

The search-and-rescue effort was the largest in Texas history, including more than 50 helicopters, 1,500 searchers and teams from federal, state and local agencies.

Once evacuees were safe and dry, there was another problem - where they would go. Some buses went to shelters in San Antonio and Austin. Shelters across Texas scurried to find enough cots.

Hundreds of people wrapped around a high school in Galveston - some with pets, overstuffed duffel bags and medicine as they waited to board a bus to a shelter.

The storm also took a toll in Louisiana, where hundreds of homes were flooded and power outages worsened as the state struggles to recover from Hurricane Gustav, which struck over Labor Day.

Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman, Michael Kunzelman, Juan A. Lozano, Jon Gambrell, Allen G. Breed, Doug Simpson, Pauline Arrillaga and Chris Duncan contributed to this report.

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