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Study: Houston-Galveston area not prepared for major hurricane

Researchers say a category 4 or 5 hurricane could cripple the Houston area and endanger tens of thousands of lives.

HOUSTON - With the 2010 hurricane season days away, a new report warns that a major hurricane could cripple the Houston and Galveston area.

The study issued Wednesday by the Rice University-based Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED) shows that even a category 4 or 5 storm could devastate Houston's petrochemical industry.

Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast in Sept. 2008 It was a category 2 storm, but the storm surge proved much worse.

In a stronger storm, researchers say levees along the Houston Ship Channel won t protect all the refineries.

It would be a catastrophe without measure, said SSPEED Director Phil Bedient. There needs to be, I think, a much more careful plan put into place over the next decade to figure out a way to better protect that area.

The study also found the area s highways can t handle massive evacuations. The 100-year-old floodplains that flood insurance is based on are also outdate, the report shows.

Also, researchers say two-thirds of water-crossing bridges in the Galveston Bay Area may be vulnerable.

The report does not examine how to pay for the upgrades it says are necessary. But Bedient says the goal is to get city planners and government officials to pay attention before the next big storm hits.