CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Three men were pulled out of the windswept waters here Friday by rescuers as thunderous Hurricane Ike roared through the Gulf of Mexico pounding its way to Galveston and Houston. A fourth man was still missing.
One of the men, a teenager, fell into the water off a pier on Padre Island, according to witnesses. Three others jumped in to save him, said Janice Farmer, a Corpus Christi resident who was sitting on the beach with friends when she heard the men yelling. The wife of one of the men who jumped in said the first victim appeared to be stuck under the waves.
It looked like his leg was pinned underwater and they were trying to him help, she said. But a wave swept them all out.
Three were rescued and hospitalized, said Frank Rodriguez, battalion chief of the Corpus Christi Fire Department. One was transported by helicopter from the scene. The Coast Guard was searching for the fourth.
Hopefully they’ll be able to find him, Mr. Rodriguez said.
The tide on the coast off Corpus Christi was at least 60 feet higher than normal on Friday, covering parking lots and roads with crushing waves. Despite a hurricane warning in place, people were seen wading into the water, walking along piers and even surfing.
Hurricane Ike is predicted to skirt alongside Corpus Christi early Saturday morning on its way to Galveston and Houston, where it is expected to deliver the worst pounding the two cities have seen in more than a decade as at least a Category 3 hurricane.
Residents here marveled at the high tide that swept over the coastal areas on Friday afternoon, some wishing they had left and others revealing that powerful Hurricane Ike now bearing down on them isnt expected to hit them directly.
“I”ve lived here 30 years and Ive never seen it look like this,” said Nancy Hagopian, pointing to the Gulf tide off Padre Balli Park in Padre Island.
Ms. Hagopian, 51, said seeing the already large surge Friday almost made her regret not evacuating.
“When I saw the storm move north, I decided to stay, but I didnt expect this,” she said of the surge.
Others had evacuated but returned when the storms path moved north on Thursday.
“When the storm changed, we came back,” said Trey and Heidi Tumlinson of Corpus Christi.
Still, many had evacuated and stayed away, several store clerks said Friday.
“It’s slowing down,” said Ana Gonzalez, manager of Stripes gas station and convenience store. Everybody is gone.
Some stores remained open despite boarded up windows, while others decided to close early. Residents gathered along the shores to watch the waves. Some ventured out onto piers and tried surfing.
“We wanted to see some waves,” said Sam Phillips, 23, who with friends went out to a long pier by now just a few feet above the Gulf waters. They planned to host a hurricane party that night.
Many of those gathered along the shores were thinking about Galveston, the small island town directly in Hurricane Ikes path.
“This is nothing compared to what Galveston is going to get,”said Albert Rent, a nearly lifelong Corpus Christi resident, while watching the waves. If it was coming here, I wouldnt be here.
Hurricane Ike pushed into Texas like a battering ram on Friday, nearly the size of the Lone Star State itself. It sent giant waves over the top of a 17-foot seawall in Galveston, trapping more than 60 people who had to be rescued by a helicopter.
About a million people in low-lying coastal areas had already been evacuated as the hurricane approached at 12 miles per hour, although about 90,000 in three coastal counties refused to leave, authorities said. The biggest threat is the expected floodwaters and a storm surge that likely will reach as high as 25 feet.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working with federal, state and local officials to keep safe before, during and after Hurricane Ike makes landfall in Texas. President Bush has issued pre-landfall disaster declarations in Texas and Louisiana that enables federal aid to supplement and support any of the immediate response efforts. Ike could also bring heavy winds and rain to Oklahoma, Arkansas and other states as it moves north over the weekend. “Hurricane Ike poses a danger to life and property,” FEMA said in a statement. “Residents should also listen carefully to instructions from local and state officials especially with regards to evacuations. The lesson learned from earlier evacuations this year is that they reduced the number of injuries and deaths that too often accompany a major storm.”
A total of 572,000 people live within the storm surge area and it will directly impact six drinking water plants, 34 wastewater treatment facilities, 54 police stations, 89 fire stations and 32 ambulance services. The surge also will effect 10 hospitals with more than 10 beds, 47 nursing Homes, 7 wire centers, 140 electric power substations, 48 non-nuclear generating units and 10 industrial plants including oil refineries and chemical plants with 41 generators.
Authorities projected power outages for more than 5 million customers.
In addition, the hurricane will impact on the production of petroleum and natural gas in its path; 95 percent of the Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas production is suspended, meaning a reduction of about 1.25 million barrels a day of oil production, about 6 percent of the U.S. petroleum demand. The storm also will cause drop of a 6.9 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas production, 11 percent of the U.S. daily average natural gas demand.