Howling wind, rain, darkness accompany Ike through Houston

A conspicuous absence of words marked the wee hours at the Best Western hotel in central Houston while a monster storm rolled through.

Until 3 am, television filled the vacuum with fearful footage of the effects of Hurricane Ike in the area around the fourth-largest city in the United States.

Once the power was out, however, only the irregular howling of the wind and the constant beating of rain hitting window panes broke the silence.

Most of the comments foretold a bitter morning in Galveston, the first US city to feel Ike's fury.

"Before the power got cut off, they were saying things were pretty bad there. It must have been pretty hard," hotel manager Salman said in the morning.

From a corner of the lobby, Marcia asked whether the expected huge storm surge had topped the seawall that separates the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston, which lies on a barrier island.

"Yes," several voices answered at once.

"My God!" Marcia mumbled.

Ike hit Houston hard, like no other Atlantic hurricane since Alicia in 1983. Many of the locals who experienced that storm a quarter-of-a-century ago claim this time was worse.

The hurricane arrived slowly but surely in Houston.

First, it was the wind shaking the trees, then lashing rain, followed by a gradual but exponential increase in the power of the storm, accompanied by a noise like a train approaching at high speed.

Now and then, a crash disturbed the monotonous soundtrack - some transformer that exploded. Trees broke, and their branches covered the asphalt streets.

Wheeled trash Dumpsters competed for pole position, and newspaper dispensers fell like dominos.

The impact of the hurricane on buildings was limited.

The Best Western hotel, for example, suffered barely any damage - the force of the rain pushed in water through the cracks in exterior doors, forming puddles on the floor, quickly sopped up with towels.

Worst for hotel guests were the darkness and the lack of water. Even after dawn, the lobby and corridors remained dimly lit. Jerry, a truck driver from Tennessee, was kind enough to lend his torch to anyone who needed it.

Salman did not know when the power would be back, but he guessed it would be sooner rather than later, because several nearby hospitals make the area a public priority.

Jerry, though, pointed out that hospitals should have their own generators, stocked with plenty of fuel to ride out the storm and the aftermath.

The lack of running water was a further setback, and that was not likely to be solved quickly, either. The authorities cut off supply to prevent water mains from being contaminated by likely flooding.

A small group of people gathered by candlelight in the lobby, but most clients barricaded themselves in their rooms. They had all listened to the authorities and had enough food and drink to see out the storm.

The problem, someone joked, was that by then it was the rooms that needed water more than ever. A clean-up would be handy, but no one knew when that would even be possible, dpa reported.

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