More than 1m people at risk as hurricane Ike heads towards Texas

America’s largest refinery and Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre could be at risk of damage

A sign in Port Aransas, Texas. Photograph: Eric Gay

More than a million people in Texas have been warned they should leave their homes as hurricane Ike heads across the Gulf of Mexico towards the Texan coast, home to America’s largest concentration of refineries and chemical plants.

The storm was strengthening as it left the warm waters of the Gulf and was expected to reach the coastline between Houston and Corpus Christi early on Saturday.

Four counties south and east of Houston have announced mandatory or voluntary evacuations, and authorities have begun moving the sick or immobilised around 190 miles (305km) away to San Antonio.

Around a million people live in the coastal counties between Corpus Christi and Galveston, with another 4 million in Houston, to the north.

Forecasters have predicted Ike could be a category four storm with winds reaching as high as 131mph.

Emergency officials warned that such a storm could cause a surge of floodwaters up to 5 metres (18ft) in Matagorda Bay and four to eight feet in Galveston Bay, which could potentially push floodwaters into Houston.

There were concerns that sites such as the country’s largest refinery and Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre could be at risk of damage.

There are 26 refineries in Texas, most along the Gulf Coast in such places as Houston, Port Arthur and Corpus Christi. Power outages can shut down equipment for days or weeks and a prolonged shutdown could lead to higher petrol prices.

Ike has already raged through Cuba, killing at least 81 people in the Caribbean.

Mark Sloan, the emergency management coordinator for Harris county, which includes Houston, said: “It’s a very large storm. The bands will be over 200 miles out from the centre of storm, so we have to be aware of its size as it grows over the next 24 to 48 hours and what impacts it will have on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

In Cuba, the vice-president, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, said the storm damaged at least 27,000 homes in the east of the country, but that did not include Havana or many other regions where officials were still fighting against rising waters.

Lee Glendinning and agencies, Thursday September 11 2008 14:19 BST

Source: The Guardian

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