By Chris Baltimore and Anna Driver
HOUSTON, Sept 13 - (Reuters) - Hurricane Ike barreled into the densely populated Texas coast near Houston early on Saturday, bringing with it a wall of water and ferocious winds that could cause catastrophic flooding along the Gulf of Mexico and cripple the fourth-largest U.S. city.
Ike, which has idled more than a fifth of U.S. oil production, came ashore at the barrier island city of Galveston as a Category 2 storm at about 2:10 a.m. CDT (0710 GMT) with 110 mph (175 kph) winds. It was just 1 mile per hour shy of reaching Category 3 strength on the five-step intensity scale, the National Hurricane Center said.
The oil industry is reeling from the one-two punch of Gustav and Ike. Gustav did little damage to refineries and offshore oil and gas platforms, but Louisiana refineries have struggled to come back online because of power failures.
Of the 677 oil and gas platforms exposed to hurricane-force winds from Gustav, only one was destroyed. But most of them had to be shut down ahead of the storm, and by the time companies were ready to send crews back to restart production, Ike was on its way.
About 97 percent of oil production in the Gulf and 93 percent of natural gas production were shut down as of Wednesday, according to the United States Minerals Management Service. The Gulf region accounts for about 25 percent of the nation’s domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.