Early reports seem to be indicating that once again, man’s knowledge of nature is an inexact science at best. A storm such as Ike never had set its sights on the United States before, so it is not surprising that information gleaned from dozens of “normal” hurricanes turned out to not be applicable to Ike. This is good news for some and horrible news for others.
The storm surge is USUALLY greatest directly to the northeast of the eye wall of a hurricane. This was certainly the case with both Katrina and Rita three years ago. The dire forecasts that hinted of 20 foot storm surge readings at Galveston and Houston proved greatly inflated, but readings farther north and east proved to be greater than expected. In fact, at this time, places such as Dauphin Island south of Mobile, Alabama are still cut off from the mainland due to Ike’s storm surge. This area was nowhere near where Ike came ashore.
Plaquemines Parish is the part of Louisiana which sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico south and west of New Orleans. This is where Katrina first struck before making landfall east of New Orleans. This Parish was heavily damaged by Katrina and was one of the last places to receive help in reconstruction. Perhaps one of the most astounding things reported this morning is that this Parish has worse flooding than it had from Katrina. That is simply unbelievable.
Cameron Parish and Calcasieu Parishes in Louisiana form the Lake Charles metro area. This was ground zero for hurricane Rita three years ago. Reports today say both places are encountering greater flooding with Ike than they did with Rita. Again, this is simply amazing and totally unexpected only a few days ago.
I have not seen or heard any definitive reports out of the Port Arthur area, but I would assume the flooding there to be fairly substantial. It appears that a preliminary thought is that when a super hurricane such as Ike approaches an area, the storm surge is not as great next to the eye, but instead stretches out for hundreds of miles. Of course this idea will be studied as scientists attempt to understand various things about Ike. But, the facts are that the surge itself was not as bad as anticipated in the areas closest to landfall.
I am afraid that Louisiana will end up being forgotten. Not only do very few people know about the damage done by Gustov, now many of the same areas are under water again due to Ike. I pray places such as Cameron Parish do not get left out as it did after Rita.
So, from first reports, the damage around Houston is substantial, but could have been far worse. At last report, no major damage was done to the various chemical plants and petroleum refineries. This is of course a huge deal considering what could have happened to the nation’s gasoline supply. At first report, the natural gas lines are undamaged, so there will little disruption of service.
The damage to Galveston was far less than expected ONLY because the storm surge did not reach the heights predicted. As in any disaster of this size and magnitude, there will pockets of horrific damage and other pockets of little damage.
Current estimates of 15 to 20 billion dollars in insurable damages will most certainly make Ike a major hurricane regardless if it made to that designation wind wise or not. We have only just begun to see the extent of damage and begin to honestly look at what can be learned from Ike. I am quite sure the end results will be much different than the beginning ones.