Major Evacuation Under Way in Texas

All of Galveston Island has been ordered evacuated, and Harris County, Texas, officials called today for mandatory evacuations of low-lying areas in the county, in which Houston is located. The Houston Chronicle reports this order from the county affects areas in which 245,000 people live. Most schools in the area will be closed Friday. Two other counties south and east of Houston issued mandatory evacuation orders today. ExxonMobil said at 3 p.m. today that its Baytown, Texas, refinery is in the process of shutting down, and Marathon Oil Co. was shutting down its Texas City, Texas, refinery and closed its Houston offices Friday.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the head of Harris County's government, declared a "state of disaster" today that gave him power to control evacuations, rescue efforts, and the shutdown of county facilities. The order also gave the county the power to sue any local merchant that charges exorbitant prices for emergency supplies; the county attorney said penalties up to $20,000 -- up to $250,000 if the victim is older than 65 -- could be sought in such cases.

Part of Galveston Island is behind a 17-foot seawall, and only part of the island had been ordered evacuated until Hurricane Ike shifted and seemed headed toward Freeport, Texas, near Galvestion, with landfall expected late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 3 hurricane. State prison inmates and hospital patients are being moved inland today, some to Austin or San Antonio. Dallas expects to house thousands of evacuees.

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