News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

‘Catastrophic’ storm hits Texas

‘Catastrophic’ storm hits Texas

Hurricane Ike has made landfall on the Gulf coast of Texas, where it is expected to cause “potentially catastrophic” flooding and damage.

It hit land at Galveston at 0710 GMT, with winds of up to 110 mph (175km/h).

Much of the city, which in 1900 was the scene of the country’s deadliest hurricane, was already under water after a 12ft (3.7m) storm surge.

The eye of the storm, which has since weakened to a Category One, is turning away from Houston, towards Arkansas.

Outside walls and ceilings have collapsed, the glass atrium in the lobby [of our hotel] shattered

Mandatory evacuation orders affected more than one million people, but there are fears for up to 90,000 people across Texas who officials say decided to brave out the storm.

In Galveston, an estimated 23,000 residents stayed behind.

President George W Bush, who earlier declared a federal emergency in Texas, said the federal and state authorities would conduct the recovery effort together, bringing in generators and ensuring water and ice supplies.

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is due to arrive in Texas on Saturday, weather conditions permitting, he added, speaking at the White House.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has waived federal clean air regulations for petrol sold in states affected by the storm, in an effort to reduce fuel disruption.

Ike has halted more than a fifth of US oil production, forcing 17 refineries in the Gulf of Mexico to shut down as a precaution.

Rain and debris

Jessica Willey, a journalist based in Galveston which lies on a small island off the coast of Texas, told it was the worst storm she had ever seen:

See the likely path of Hurricane Ike through the US

“The rain is coming sideways. Debris is flying through the air. Things are getting ripped off buildings every second, and flying through the air.

All emergency workers have been pulled off the streets until daybreak when a curfew will be lifted.

“We hope we will find the people who are left here alive and well,” said Galveston mayor Lynda Ann Thomas.

There is widespread flooding, and a hospital there is under at least 9.8ft (3 meters of water). The city has lost power and a number of houses are reported to be on fire.

Residents of low-lying homes were warned they faced “certain death” if they stayed.

Haitian appeal

At 1300 GMT, Hurricane Ike was about 20 miles (30km) south-southeast of Huntsville, Texas, with top sustained winds of nearly 90mph (145km/h).

It was due to pass through eastern Texas during the day, reaching western Arkansas on Saturday night, according to US National Hurricane Center.

US officials have warned as many as 100,000 homes in Texas could be affected by flooding.

Nearly 4.5 million people in the Houston-Galveston area are without electricity, a spokesman for power company CenterPoint Energy said.

Ferocious winds and rain have been lashing at his hotel for 10 hours.

“We are largely trapped here,” he said. “The power went out five hours ago, the lowest floor is submerged. Outside walls and ceilings have collapsed, the glass atrium in the lobby shattered.

“With the threat of rising seas, hotel guests have been ushered into the concrete stairwell, the sturdiest part of the building, and urged to climb to higher floors.”

The massive system is causing flooding along the Louisiana coast, still recovering from Hurricane Gustav earlier this month.

1900 GALVESTON HURRICANE
Men carry out bodies from the wreckage after a hurricane in Galveston, Texas, in 1900
Thought to be worst natural disaster in US history
8,000 people killed
130mph (209km/h) winds and 15ft (4.6m) waves swept homes away

Authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of 2005, when some 110 people died in Houston during a chaotic evacuation in the face of Hurricane Rita.

Mr Chertoff said Ike was a “potentially catastrophic hurricane”.

Earlier, it caused devastation in Cuba and Haiti, where hundreds of people have died in several tropical storms over the last month.

The Haitian Prime Minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, believes one million people may be homeless, and has called for international help.

The UN says more than $100m (£55.8m) is needed.


Are you in the areas affected? Are preparing to evacuate or are you staying in your home? Send us your comments and experiences
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September 12, 2008

Evacuations as Ike approaches US

Evacuations as Ike approaches US

Residents in the US state of Texas have begun to evacuate as Hurricane Ike churns through the Gulf of Mexico.

About one million people have been advised to leave their homes, and the authorities have laid on more than 1,000 buses to facilitate the exodus.

Meteorologists warned Ike could develop into a major hurricane before hitting the Texas coast late on Friday.

Ike has killed more than 70 people in the Caribbean, with Haiti and Cuba particularly badly hit.

The US has pledged $10m (£5.7m) in aid to Haiti, where the UN estimates 800,000 people are in temporary shelters.

And Washington offered $100,000 in initial aid to Cuba, whose government has been subject to a US trade embargo for four decades.

Cuba turned the offer down, asking instead that the US sells it supplies on credit.

Supplies hit

Men board up a house in Galveston, Texas (11/09/2008)

People have been boarding up their property in Galveston, Texas

National Hurricane Center (NHC) projections show Ike reaching the US coast by late on Friday, but say the storm’s path could veer.They say Texas could be lashed with 130mph (208km/h) winds and a 20ft (6m) storm surge above normal tide levels as the storm approaches the coast.

NHC warned that because the storm is so large, weather along the coast is expected to deteriorate long before it hits land.

Tropical storm force winds currently extend up to 275 miles (445KM) from the Ike’s center.

Almost all energy production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut down as a precaution, but the US department of energy said the storm was expected to miss most of the installations.

At 1500 GMT forecasters said the eye of the storm was about 470 miles (760km) east of Galveston on the Texas coast, moving at about 10mph (17 km/h).

The mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas, has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the city and said no shelters will be opened.

“Those who stay here and don’t voluntary evacuate, we are asking to simply stay at home,” she said.

The city is providing 75 buses to transport city resident to the state capital, Austin.

Several other counties along the coast have announced mandatory or voluntary evacuations.

‘Buses, not body bags’

Hurricane Ike’s projected path

The authorities have begun moving weak and chronically-ill hospital patients to San Antonio, about 190 miles from Houston.Texans described businesses being boarded up and residents taking to the roads en masse.

“Probably every mobile home in the state was on the road,” said Margaret Romero, a 67-year-old from Corpus Christi.

“Every house on our street was boarded up,” she told Reuters.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who organized 1,350 buses to help residents leave, said he believed some were likely to resist evacuation calls but added that he wanted to see “buses, not body bags”.

Earlier, President George W Bush had declared a federal emergency in Texas, allowing funds to be freed to help the state deal with the storm.

Aid appeal

Ike is currently a Category Two storm, with winds of 100mph, but forecasters say it is likely to strengthen on its way through the Gulf of Mexico.

RECENT MAJOR STORMS
Hurricane Ike: September
Tropical Storm Hanna: September
Hurricane Gustav: August, September
Tropical Storm Fay: August

In Cuba, the storm killed four people, wrecked tens of thousands of buildings and destroyed crops.The UN estimates the cost of the damage at between $3bn-$4bn.

The island nation was already reeling from the impact of Hurricane Gustav, which destroyed about 100,000 homes when it hit the island at the end of August.

Ike earlier caused 66 deaths in Haiti and reportedly damaged 80% of the homes in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has endured the onslaught of four tropical storms in a three-week period, causing more than 550 deaths.

The UN has appealed for more than $100m in international aid to assist Haiti, where most people already lived on less than a dollar a day.

September 6, 2008

Police: Gunman kills self after standoff in bank

Police: Gunman kills self after standoff in bank

WHEATON, Illinois (AP) — A gunman who took a dozen hostages in a suburban Chicago bank after wresting a gun from a police officer Friday died after shooting himself in the head, police said.

Hostages were released Friday after a gunman killed himself in suburban Chicago, police say.

Hostages were released Friday after a gunman killed himself in suburban Chicago, police say.

The standoff began around 1:30 p.m., after a Wheaton police officer responded to a call of a hit-and-run accident near the bank.

When the officer arrived, the suspect grabbed the officer from behind, held a knife to his throat and demanded his gun, Deputy Chief Thomas Meloni said.

During an ensuing struggle, the officer was cut on a forearm and the suspect was able to take the gun and run the lobby of the Wheaton Bank & Trust, where he ordered everyone to the floor, Meloni said.

Police in Wheaton, about 20 miles west of Chicago, did not immediately release the gunman’s identity.

As officers evacuated nearby businesses and homes and shut down streets and rail service, hostage negotiators talked to the gunman by phone. They were able to persuade him to release 10 hostages, leaving two behind, Meloni said.

“At one point the suspect began to close the blinds from inside the bank and he disconnected the phone contact with the hostage negotiators,” Meloni said.

Shortly afterward, about 4:15 p.m., officers heard a single gunshot and they rushed in, Meloni said. He said the man was dead of a single gunshot wound to the head.

A spokeswoman for Central DuPage Hospital, Amy Steinbruecker, said the hospital treated and released the police officer who scuffled with the suspect for minor injuries.

Television footage showed dozens of people running from the four-story bank building, which includes other businesses, with their hands above their heads.

“We locked our office door, turned off the lights, drew the blinds,” said Donna Price, 52, of McHenry, who works in the office building. “Then we heard a knock on the door and it was a SWAT guy. He told us to get out right now.

“I said, ‘Let me get my purse.’ He said, ‘No, now.”‘

Price said police held people in a stairwell of the building before ordering them out.

“We all had to put our hands up on the back of our heads and run,” Price said from a convenience store across the street where more than 100 people were crowded.

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