Hurricane Ike, a massive 600 mile wide storm at the upper limit of Category 2 (max. sustained winds near 110 mph) that had already carved a path of destruction through the Carabbean, made landfall around 2am today near Galveston Island. Hurricane conditions have been reported from Freeport all the way to Sabine Pass.
My hometown of Port Arthur lies just north of Sabine Pass. As of this morning, the seawall along Proctor Street held, although there was some topping of levees reported. Jefferson County (where Port Arthur is located) and Orange County (just to the east) were under mandatory evacuation orders. Drainage District 7 officials decided yesterday that it was too dangerous to leave the levee pumps manned during the night, which means that any spillover water would flood streets and low-lying areas rather than being pumped back into the outlet system.
The expected storm surge at Galveston was 20 feet or greater, at least five feet above the Seawall. The surge also brought Eagle Point (in Galveston Bay), Port Arthur, and Calcasieu Pass (in western Louisiana) all 10 to 12 feet above normal. Major flooding is expected in Galveston and Houston. High winds are buffeting Houston, damaging its skyscrapers and other tall structures. Many fires are also burning in Galveston and Houston, since emergency crews can't get to them. (Yes, a hot fire can burn in the presence of strong winds and driving rain. 9/11 conspiracy kooks might have trouble wrapping their heads around that, but it does happen, particularly if the fires are fed by broken gas mains.)
Now consider this -- hundreds of thousands of Southeast Texans evacuated the area a few weeks ago ahead of Hurricane Gustav, which missed the area entirely. Apparently, residents are suffering from "evacuation fatigue" brought on by Gustav, and Rita three years ago. As a result, tens of thousands (maybe more) failed to evacuate Jefferson County. Tens of thousands also remained in Galveston and Houston, so the possibility of fatalities from the storm could be frighteningly high.
Another concern is the massive concentration of oil refineries stretching from Houston to Port Arthur. These facilities produce over half of the gasoline and diesel fuel sold in America. Motiva's Port Arthur refinery is the sixth largest in Texas and 12th largest in the United States; an expansion now under way would make Motiva Port Arthur the largest refinery in the United States. According to this Wikipedia entry, the largest refinery in Texas is ExxonMobil's Baytown facility, which is located -- you guessed it -- on Galveston Bay. Depending on the damage inflicted by the storm, the region's refining capacity could take months to recover, pushing gasoline over $4.00 a gallon. Diesel fuel may go as high as $6.00.
Please keep the residents of Southeast Texas in your prayers, and myself as well, since I still have many friends and family who live there.