A terrorist couldn't have planned it any better.
Hurricane Ike and its record expected 10-27 foot storm surge is headed directly for the Houston Ship Channel and the region that provides the nation's chemicals, oil refining and natural gas pipeline operational centers, it also is a major port for Midwest grain transport.
Expect gas prices to rise for weeks or months, and don't be surprised to experience gas shortages or even gas outages in parts of the country. Gas prices surged to $5 a gallon at the pump in some locations this morning already.
Though "only" a Category 2 hurricane, Ike covers a freakishly large area, with tropical storm winds extending 550 miles and hurricane force winds covering 240 miles. This will bring a forecast storm surge up to 30 feet in parts of the Texas coast, with the highest surge taking dead aim for Galveston Bay and near La Port and Baytown where the Houston Ship Channel begins.
Dr. Jeff Masters, one of the nation's leading experts, called it this morning, "poised to become one of the most damaging hurricanes of all time."
Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff in today's Wall Street Journal called Ike's directly hitting the Houston Ship Channel "one of the nightmare scenarios in the world of hurricane watching." He said it could damage "a lot of the energy and chemcial resources we depend on in this country."
Besides the national economic damage Ike will inflict, expect massive human health and environmental consequences from the pending disaster. The region of southeast Houston and southeast Texas is home to hundreds of chemical plants and dozens of refineries, with 89 percent handling hazardous waste. The neighborhoods surrounding the channel are largely Hispanic, some by more than 90 percent.
I wonder if local Texas officials have reached out to Hispanics through media and other ways, so that they can be evacuated from what may become the equivalent of the Ninth Ward during Katrina in New Orleans. In coastal Freeport, no special outreach was made to "undocumented" communities, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
This event portends to reshape the US energy economy, disaster preparedness and the implications of climate change adaptation (see my blog entries from earlier this week).
My hope is that people make it out of there safely while there is still time.