Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008, 11:45 p.m.
Texas readies evacuation order in case hurricane comes
By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN
The Associated Press
McALLEN, Texas | With Hurricane Ike steaming into the Gulf of Mexico, Texas emergency officials Tuesday stood ready to order a million people evacuated from the impoverished Rio Grande Valley.
The emergency officials have another problem: Convincing tens of thousands of illegal immigrants that they have less to fear from the Border Patrol than from the storm.
Emergency planning officials were meeting all day to decide whether and when to announce a mandatory evacuation for coastal counties close to the Mexican border.
With forecasts showing Ike blowing ashore this weekend, authorities lined up nearly 1,000 buses in case they were needed to move out the many poor and elderly people who have no cars.
Federal authorities gave assurances they would not check people’s immigration status at evacuation loading zones or inland checkpoints. But residents were skeptical, and there were worries that many illegal immigrants would refuse to board buses and go to shelters for fear of getting arrested and deported.
It would be the first mandatory large-scale evacuation in south Texas history. State and county officials let people decide for themselves whether to leave a hurricane area until just before Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Now county officials can order people out of harm’s way.
Hurricane Ike left Cuba on Tuesday as a Category 1 storm, but left behind between $3 billion and $4 billion in wreckage to homes, agriculture, the electrical grid and public buildings, the United Nations said.
CNN) -- Hurricane Ike was strengthening Tuesday night in the Gulf of Mexico after battering Cuba, and forecasters said they expected it to hit Texas by week's end as a major hurricane.
Forecast models showed that Ike could cross Texas' coast Friday evening or Saturday morning anywhere from Brownsville, near the Mexico border, to Galveston, about 60 miles southwest of the Texas-Louisiana line, CNN meteorologists said.
Ike is expected to strengthen further over the Gulf's warm waters and could be a Category 3 storm -- with sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph -- when it makes landfall, the hurricane center said.
Galveston, Texas, Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas warned residents to stock up on nonperishable items, including pet food and diapers, and to prepare for going without electricity.
City Manager Steve LeBlanc issued a warning to residents of Galveston's West End, citing forecasters' estimates that the area could get tides of 6 feet above normal if the storm arrives there. The West End, he said, is the area of Galveston most susceptible to flooding.
Thomas said she could call for voluntary evacuations of the West End by Wednesday morning, depending on forecasts.
By Tuesday night, officials in Corpus Christi, Texas, had called for the evacuations of special-needs residents beginning Wednesday morning. They also called for the relocation of high-profile vehicles -- including vans, motor homes, travel trailers and hitched boats -- that could hinder traffic if expanded evacuations become necessary.
The Texas Department of Transportation said it expected to open a shoulder of northbound Interstate 37 to traffic -- from coastal Corpus Christi to U.S. 281 roughly 80 miles inland -- on Wednesday morning to help people trying to leave the city.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry put 7,500 National Guard members on standby Tuesday.