A monster-sized Hurricane Ike bore down on the Texas coast, threatening to rattle the sparkling skyscrapers of America’s fourth-largest city, shut down the heart of the US oil industry for days and obliterate waterfront towns already flooded with waist-high water.
Though nearly one million people evacuated coastal communities in the days leading up to the storm, tens of thousands ignored calls to leave and decided to tough it out.
But as windwhipped floodwaters began crashing into coastal homes, many changed their minds.
Galveston fire crews rescued more than 300 people who were walking through flooded streets, clutching clothes and other belongings as they tried to wade to safety.
“We were going street by street seeing people who were trying to escape the flood waters,” Fire Chief Michael Varela said. “I’m assuming these were people who made the mistake of staying.”
At 600 miles across, the storm was nearly as big as Texas itself, and threatened to give the state its worst pounding in a generation.
It was on track to crash ashore near Galveston, the same site that suffered the nation’s worst natural disaster when a legendary storm struck without warning and killed 6,000 more than a century ago.
Officials were growing increasingly worried about the stalwarts, and many communities imposed curfews to discourage looters. Authorities in three counties alone said roughly 90,000 stayed behind, despite a warning from forecasters that many of those in one- or two-story homes on the coast faced “certain death”.
With heavy bands of rain and high winds moving in, rescue crews were forced to retreat and leave the stubborn to fend for themselves. Firefighters left a boat and yacht warehouse in Galveston in flames because water was too high for fire trucks to navigate.
“I believe in the man up there, God,” said William Steally, a 75-year-old retiree who planned to ride out the storm in Galveston without his wife or sister-in-law. “I believe he will take care of me.”
A disabled 584-foot freighter with 22 men aboard was left tossing about in the waves because winds were too dangerous for aircraft.
Power was knocked out for hundreds of thousands of customers in Louisiana and along the Texas coast.
Forecasters predict Ike will come ashore somewhere near Galveston in the early hours of Saturday and pass almost directly over Houston.