HOUSTON — Hurricane Ike flooded thousands of homes, blew out countless high-rise windows and left millions without electricity Saturday as authorities launched a massive search-and-rescue effort for people stranded by the rising water.
Emergency officials were still trying to confirm any casualties, but it appeared widespread deaths were unlikely. The storm rumbled ashore slightly weaker than expected -- Ike was a Category 2 with 110 mph winds when its eye hit Galveston at 2:10 a.m. CDT -- and dumped steady rain over eastern Texas as it lost wind power.
The major concern focused on the tens of thousands who ignored mandatory evacuation orders from coastal areas.
"Some people didn't evacuate when asked," President Bush said Saturday from the White House. "The storm has yet to pass, and I know there are people concerned about their lives."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry mobilized 7,500 National Guard troops, and Houston Mayor Bill White said firefighters and police officers started responding to emergencies as soon as conditions became safe Saturday morning.
"The unfortunate truth is we're going to have to go in and put our people in the tough situation to save people who did not choose wisely," said Andrew Barlow, a spokesman for Perry. "We'll probably do the largest search and rescue operation that's ever been conducted in the state of Texas."
About 1 million people fled coastal communities before the storm made landfall, but at least 140,000 chose to ride out the hurricane at home.
Steven Rushing, a commercial fisherman, hunkered down with his family inside their one-story brick home in Galveston Island. By Saturday morning, more than 4 feet of water flooded the family's home, and the Rushings quickly put on life jackets and escaped in a boat.
"I'm drained. I'm beat up. My family is traumatized," Rushing told the Associated Press after finding safety at an emergency shelter about 20 blocks away. "I kept them here, promising them everything would be all right. But this is the real deal, and I won't stay no more."
The American Red Cross provided shelter to 20,000 evacuees at 155 locations in Texas and Arkansas. A woman gave birth at a middle school shelter in New Braunfels, Texas, just northeast of San Antonio.
A geriatric psychiatrist, an intensive-care nurse and a few volunteers helped Ku Paw deliver a baby girl on a bathroom floor at Church Hill Middle School Friday night. Mother and infant were then taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
"It's kind of like riding a bike," Dr. Mark Burns said to The Herald-Zeitung newspaper about delivering his first baby in two decades.
Other evacuated residents gathered around television sets in Houston Saturday to find news of their hometowns.
"They haven't said anything about Galveston," said Bertha Pena, 79, a lifelong resident of the island.
She was surprised by reports that as many as 23,000 Galveston residents stayed behind. She didn't want to take any chances.
Pena said her high-rise condo "shakes when a storm hits. So far it's held up. But now?"
Ike was a very wide storm -- nearly 600 miles -- that caused major flooding from southeast Texas to the central Louisiana coast, which was still recovering from Hurricane Gustav's landfall last month.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said 160 people were rescued from flooded areas Friday and more rescue operations were underway Saturday. Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said Ike brought worse flooding to his town than Hurricane Rita did three years ago. More than 1,800 homes were flooded, and in some low-lying communities, people refused to be rescued by National Guard troops.
Houston's 911 center handled 1,250 calls since Friday, and Coast Guard helicopters helped rescue 103 people in Galveston from rooftops and cars before landfall. On Saturday, White said Houston's water was not contaminated, but he encouraged all residents to boil water or use bottled water until further notice.
Hurricane Ike's deadly path toward the Gulf Coast raked the Caribbean last week, where the storm caused at least 74 fatalities in Haiti, seven in Cuba and one in the Dominican Republic, mostly from landslides and severe floods. Ike killed dozens in the Haitian coastal town of Cabaret, where floodwaters literally ripped children from their mothers' arms, drowning them.
Ike's winds had weakened to 80 mph by Saturday afternoon as the storm moved north of Huntsville, Texas. The hurricane appeared to have spared major damage to the oil rigs and refineries along the Gulf Coast, but wholesale gasoline prices jumped Friday due to a fear of shortages.
The price spike is expected to result in higher gasoline prices across the country as the gas makes its way from wholesalers to retail stations. Bush said the government suspended the Environmental Protection Agency waivers on some reformulated gas to make it easier for foreign imports to reach the U.S. market. Both Bush and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist urged people to be vigilant against price gouging.
"The Department of Energy and state authorities will be monitoring a gasoline crisis so consumers are not being gouged," Bush said. Hurricane Ike roared through the downtown of America's fourth-largest city Saturday morning, blowing windows from skyscrapers and sending torrents of water through the streets.
In Houston, sightseers were able to drive on many of the city's streets. But others were impassable and there was evidence that the story had yet to be told. A steak restuarant smouldered after burning overnight when firefighters were unable to leave their stations because of the dangerous conditions.
Windows were blown out of several skyscrapers and piles of broken glass littered some streets. Traffic lights were twisted and swinging in the wind. A couple had falllen to the ground in the middle of the street.
How long the area would be without power was also unknown. A full assessment of the utility grid probably won't be available until Monday. Estimates are that in some places will be without power for three weeks.
A hotel that was supposed to house the National Guard was badly damaged and its lobby filled with water. The Guard units were transferred elsewhere.
The National Weather Service lifted its hurricane warning for much of the Gulf region at 11 a.m. EDT as the storm passed over Trinity, Texas, about 20 miles north northeast of Huntsville and 35 miles west southewest of Lufkin. The storm was expected to reach Arkansas tonight.
(Benn, of the Miami Herald, reported from Miami; Batheja and Ayala, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, reported from Houston.)