WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush on Saturday declared a major disaster exists in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ike, which slammed into the Gulf Coast, flooding homes and knocking out power to thousands.
"The storm has yet to pass and I know there are people concerned about their lives," Bush said from the South Lawn of the White House after he participated in video conference with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and David Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Some people didn't evacuate when asked," Bush said about the tens of thousands of people in Texas and Louisiana who may have to be rescued. "I've been briefed on the rescue teams there in the area. They're prepared to move as soon as weather conditions permit. Obviously, people on the ground there are sensitive to helping people and are fully prepared to do so."
Ike ravaged southeast Texas early Saturday, battering the coast with driving rain and high wind. Thousands of homes and government buildings are flooded, roads are washed out, nearly 3 million people lost power and several fires burned unabated.
"As this massive storm moves through the Gulf Coast, people in that area can rest assured that the American people will be praying for them and will be ready to help once this storm moves on," Bush said.
Though roughly 1 million people fled coastal communities, authorities in four counties alone said roughly 140,000 ignored mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind. Other counties were unable to provide numbers but officials said they were concerned that many decided to brave deadly conditions rather than flee.
The eye of the hurricane missed the center of Houston, as well as the largest concentrations of oil and gas refineries. Still, retail gasoline prices jumped Saturday based on Ike's collision with the region, which accounts for about one-fifth of the nation's petroleum refining capacity. Some refineries, even if they were not damaged, may remain shuttered for days.
Gas prices nationwide rose nearly 6 cents a gallon to $3.733, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. Ike disrupted supply at the wholesale level in the Gulf Coast, where prices struck $4.85 a gallon Friday.
The price spike is expected to result in higher prices at gas pumps across broad swaths of the nation as the gasoline makes it way from the wholesale market to retailers.
The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily has waived certain gasoline requirements for nearly a dozen states that are dependent on supplies from the Gulf Coast. The action means that the states temporarily do not have to use less-polluting blends of gasoline, making it easier for them to use foreign imports on the U.S. market.