HOUSTON — Authorities expanded an evacuation order for the Texas Gulf Coast to include Houston today as forecasters adjusted predictions for Hurricane Ike. The slow-moving storm is expected to make landfall early Saturday morning southwest of Galveston.
The 200-mile-wide Ike had been expected to hit the coast farther south, near Corpus Christi. The storm is now a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 91 mph or more, according to the National Hurricane Center in MIami, and is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 111 mph or higher by the time it makes landfall.
Evacuation of low-lying areas in the storm’s projected path is already well underway. On Thursday afternoon, however, Houston residents were just beginning to make plans, said Pravin Parmar, owner of Gulf States Laundry Machinery.
“People think it’ll turn and go away, but you don’t know — until yesterday it was forecast for Corpus Christi,” he said. “Everyone’s calm. The traffic is flowing and people are shopping. There’s still stuff on the grocery-store shelves.”
Gulf States completed board-up of its warehouse’s plate-glass façade and closed early, and will likely stay closed until the storm passes. “People wanted to come in and work, but I told them to go spend time with their families,” Parmar says. “We’ve got rooms in Austin. The only thing you can say about a hurricane is that you can prepare for it.”
Authorities also issued evacuation orders for the Jefferson and Orange counties east of Houston to the Louisiana state line, and part of San Patricio County to the south. Situated on a barrier island and leveled by a hurricane in 1900, Galveston is subject to a mandatory evacuation order.
Hurricane and tropical-storm warnings have been extended to 500 miles of coastline stretching from the Mississippi border nearly to Mexico. Areas unlikely to suffer a direct hit should prepare for severe weather, high winds, flooding and a possible storm surge five to seven feet above normal tide levels, the National Hurricane Center said.