Hurricane Ike Eyeing Galveston Island
Hurricane Ike -- currently a Category 2 hurricane, but expected to reach Category 3 status sometime today -- is poised to make landfall near Galveston Island around 3 AM early Saturday, if it keeps on its current track and speed. Hams in Texas and Louisiana have had a bit of a breather since Hurricane Gustav came through two weeks ago, but ARRL Section leadership in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arkansas have reported in ongoing conference calls with ARRL Headquarters that they are ready for Ike.
According to ARRL South Texas Section Emergency Coordinator Mike Schwartz, KG5TL, the following counties in South Texas have received mandatory evacuation orders: San Patricio, Aransas, Matagorda, Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson, Hardin and Orange. Calhoun, Victoria and Jackson have been issued voluntary evacuation orders, while certain ZIP codes in Harris County -- home of Houston, the country's fourth largest city -- received mandatory evacuation orders. Schwartz said that Emergency Management Officials in New Braunfels have requested Amateur Radio communications support.
"People are heading out of town, up Interstate 45, out of Houston, and Interstate 290, to San Antonio," Schwartz said. Austin, the state capital, is in the South Texas Section, and Schwartz said that that city will serve as the State's marshalling center. Schwartz also reported that ARES® and RACES groups have been working in tandem "very well" with each other.
In September 1900, Galveston experienced the worst hurricane (a Category 4 storm in today's measurements) -- some say the worst natural disaster -- in US history; more than 8000 people perished in that storm.
In ARRL's North Texas Section, Section Emergency Coordinator Bill Swan, K5MWC, said approximately 15 American Red Cross shelters are already open. "ARES members will be providing communications at these locations," he said. "Many coastal residents escaping from Ike are expected to head up to the North Texas Section."
According to Swan, Emergency Management Agencies in the Section will move up to Condition 3 -- an alert status -- as soon as the storm comes through. "Right now, there are agreements in place throughout the area for county-to-county aid."
Amateur Radio operators are providing support to FEMA Region VI during Hurricane Ike, Swan said, "through the establishment of a coordination communications link that state agencies can request FEMA support, as well as to respond to requests from FEMA for information that agencies can use in their response to those impacted by Hurricane Ike." FEMA Region VI covers the states of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana. "FEMA has been very pleased with the activity and support of Amateur Radio here in the North Texas Section," Swan said.
Swan said that the coordination link "will provide the basis for future interfaces with FEMA as the amateur community in Region VI seeks ways to provide support as a part of the National Response Framework, specifically to the Emergency Support Function #2 of that Framework that deals with communications. It will also serve to identify those areas where Amateur Radio can provide a service to FEMA. The role of Amateur Radio is still evolving, but it is clear that the amateur community can assist in providing interoperability between agencies at the local, state and national level." A 2 meter link has been opened to FEMA Regional Headquarters in Denton, just north of Dallas.
ARRL West Texas Section Manager John Dyer, AE5B, said that while his Section isn't expected to feel the storm as his counterparts in the other two Sections will, hams in West Texas are ready for whatever is needed. He said that three shelters for those with special medical needs are being set up in the West Texas Section in Lubbock, El Paso and Amarillo, as well as Oklahoma. "The State is considering using the airport in Midland as a way to get in and out of the area. With the storm coming in, they don't think that the airports in Dallas [NTX] or Houston [STX] will be very usable."
Section Emergency Coordinator for the ARRL West Texas Section J. T. Caldwell, WA5ZFH, reported that Presidio County is more than 11 feet above flood stage after persistant rains over the last few days. Presidio County sits on the banks of the Rio Grande, the natural border that separates Texas from Mexico. "Reservoirs in Mexico are 106 percent full," Caldwell said, "and authorities there are dumping water from their reservoirs that feed into the Rio Grande, and we are looking at that to cause some major flooding."
Public Information Officer Steven Polunsky, KE5GDR, reported that the water being released into the Rio Grande is causing major problems. "We do not know at this point how long the release [from the reservoirs to the Rio Grande] will continue," he said. "It is creating a hazardous situation affecting Presidio and Brewster Counties. Redford, a town in Presidio County, has been isolated for three days. Food is being airdropped. The road to Lajitas is under five feet of water."
Lubbock, Caldwell said, is being "inundated with remnants of Tropical Depression Lowell in the Pacific," and there is "some concern" how much rain the area will receive when the storms meet up with each other. "The ground here is completely saturated. We're in trouble if we get rains from Hurricane Ike. It could turn into a severe flooding event, since the water has virtually no place to go," he said.
In Louisiana, Section Manager Gary Stratton, K5GLS, said that Cameron Parish is "completely underwater," and that mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Cameron, Calcasieu, Lafayette, Iberia, Lafourche, Jefferson and St Bernard Parishes; Beauregard, Allen, St Martin, Iberville, St Mary, Livingston, Terrebonne and Plaquemines Parishes have receive voluntary evacuation orders.
"Eighteen shelters, including a special needs shelter in Shreveport, have been opened," Stratton reported. "ARES is providing communications support in each of these shelters."
Arkansas Section Manager Dave Norris, K5UZ, said his main concern is flooding. "The ground here is over saturated from Hurricane Gustav," he said. "In tracking the storm, we're on the 'bad side' of it. Tornados are a big concern, so SKYWARN is in a 'wait and see' mode and doing what we can to get everything prepared."
Amateurs in the Arkansas Section are on standby, waiting to see if their assistance is needed in the Louisiana and South Texas Sections, Norris said.
Mississippi Section Manager Malcolm Keown, W5XX, reported that there is one shelter open on the coast, but there has not been a request for Amateur Radio support for that shelter. "Hancock County - the county closest to Louisiana on the coast - has been issued mandatory evacuation orders, and the National Guard has been deployed to assist with anything needed down there," Keown said. "Highway 90, which runs parallel to the coast, has been closed."
Oklahoma Section manager John Thomason, WB5SYT, said he has been in contact with that state's Emergency Operations Center. "We have two concerns right now in Oklahoma," he said, "Flooding and preparations to host evacuees fleeing Ike. We're in a state of readiness." Saying that the governor has declared a state of emergency, Thomason said that Oklahoma Section leadership is in contact with the Salvation Army and American Red Cross.
Hurricane Ike's Progress
At 10 AM (CDT) Friday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported that Ike was heading toward the west-northwest near 12 MPH, with its center about 295 miles east of Corpus Christi, Texas and about 195 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. A turn toward the northwest is expected later today, with a turn toward the north expected on Saturday. Forecasters at the NHC said that Ike's center will be very near the upper Texas coast by late Friday or early Saturday. Because Ike is a very large tropical cyclone, weather will begin to deteriorate along the coastline soon.
Isolated tornadoes are possible on Friday over portions of Southern Louisiana and extreme Southern Mississippi, the National Weather Service said. Isolated tornadoes are possible Friday night over portions of Southwestern Louisiana and Southeastern Texas.
If Ike keeps on its current track, forecasters are calling for the storm to make landfall along the Central Texas coast early Saturday morning as a major hurricane. A hurricane warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Baffin Bay, Texas. A tropical storm warning remains in effect south of Baffin Bay to Port Mansfield, Texas. A tropical storm warning is also in effect from east of Morgan City to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.