15 Sep 2008

Texas mounts mass rescue in Ike's wake

3:34 pm on 15 September 2008

Recovery teams picked their way through debris and inundated streets in coastal Texas on Sunday after Hurricane Ike flooded hundreds of kilometres of United States coastline, cut power to millions and pummeled the oil hub of Houston.

Authorities in Houston, the fourth most populous city in the US, ordered a week-long nighttime curfew because of flooding and the danger of downed power lines that have caused blanket outages that officials warned could last for weeks.

Local officials said rescue crews have located at least three bodies on Galveston, an island city of 60,000 devastated by the storm. Overall, nearly 2000 people have been rescued from flooded areas, state officials said.

Texas Governor Rick Perry made a plea to the federal government to speed up its efforts to aid in the recovery of the region, which he called vital to America's economy.

Efforts to assess the damage caused by Ike have barely begun, but early estimates suggest the bill could rise to $US18 billion.

The huge hurricane swamped Galveston as it crashed ashore on Saturday and hammered Houston, 85 kilometres inland, shattering the windows of skyscrapers, showering streets with glass and debris and ripping metal sheets off buildings.

Wreckage and floodwaters have hampered rescuers attempts to search all 51km of Galveston, where about 10,000 people ignored a mandatory evacuation order.

The sea wall protecting Galveston was piled high with the detritus of wrecked buildings and other debris. The bridge connecting to the mainland was blocked by boats and wreckage.

Heavy rains falling across Houston on Sunday swamped interstate highways, flooded some buildings and prompted government officials to ask people to stay at home. About 2 million people evacuated before Ike made landfall and authorities said millions of people could face weeks of power outages, officials said.

Oil production stopped

Ike forced oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and refineries in the heart of the America's largest oil refining center to shut down as a precaution.

While early indications suggest the damage was much less than initially feared, Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said it could be a week before the refineries were back up and running and warned Americans to brace for possible gas shortages.

Ike triggered the biggest disruption to US energy supplies in at least three years and sent gasoline prices higher. But US crude oil futures dropped more than $US2 to below $US99.01 a barrel in a special electronic trading session on Sunday as traders shrugged off supply concerns.