Houston inconvenienced by Hurr. Ike

September 14, 2008 5:20:35 PM PDT
Houston, a fast-paced metropolis that churns on industries like oil, medical research, space technology and law, was dragged to a near halt by Hurricane Ike. But unlike its coastal suburbs, it was more inconvenienced than devastated. HURRICANE IKE: Watch live | Breaking news on Ike | Roadway incidents | Interactive tracking | Viewer photos of Ike | Doppler radar | During the storm | After the storm | Hurricane guide

The downtown business district of glittering skyscrapers and city offices was shuttered until further notice. Courts, schools, many gas stations and the airports were closed. Interstate 10, the main east-west freeway, was largely inundated with high water and impassable.

Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday called the city of 2 million the heart of the state's economy.

"The future of America depends on a state like Texas and a city like Houston to get back on its feet as soon as it can," Perry said.

Houston was born after the Galveston storm of 1900, the hurricane that caught the then-powerhouse port city unaware and killed 6,000 people. Two men, the Allen brothers, saw an opportunity and within a few years dredged the Houston Ship Channel, stealing Galveston's economic importance and creating the Port of Houston -- and the metropolis that followed -- out of useless swampland and rice paddies.

Now, the headquarters of America's energy industry, the world's largest medical complex and the rest of America's fourth-largest city are working to brush themselves off.

Long lines formed at hardware stores and gas stations as the city's residents tried to get back on their feet.

Uprooted trees and large limbs blocked driveways and streets, power was out to most residents and high water made getting around town, or out of town, difficult -- impossible in some areas. A 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew kept people off the streets after dark.

The downtown and the Texas Medical Center have underground power lines, so the Center's thousands of patients and millions of dollars worth of medical research were not in danger.

Houston is accustomed to high water on streets. It's a flat, lowland city of concrete built on clay soil beribboned with seven bayous that frequently overflow their banks. A strong thunderstorm causes high water on the streets, and the annual tropical storms cause almost as much street flooding as the city saw when Ike crashed ashore early Saturday about 40 miles south of Houston.

Some of the major corporations were keeping their offices closed Monday. Several skyscrapers -- including the JPMorgan Chase tower, the state's tallest building -- had their windows blown out, scattering glass throughout downtown.

El Paso Corp., the giant natural gas distributor, said its towering office had power but sustained water damage when some of its windows shattered. The building houses most of El Paso's 2,000 employees in Houston.

"We'll be closed Monday, but we hope to be back Tuesday," said company spokesman Richard Wheatley.

But in a city that loves to shop, there was a bright spot. Hurricane Ike largely spared the city's west side so much of The Galleria -- the high-price, high-fashion shopping mall, was open and bustling.

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