Residents in Orange and Jefferson Counties expected to wake up, Thursday, to a voluntary evacuation of low lying areas, travel trailers and mobile homes. To their surprise, a mandatory evacuation was called at 7 a.m. this morning by Emergency Management officials for the two counties. Hardin County is under voluntary orders.

Special needs and 211 residents in Orange started their trek to safety at 8:30 a.m. gathering at Vidor Elementary and Lamar-Orange.

Ike had not strengthened from the 100 mile per hour sustained winds as expected, but the mass exodus was put in place because of the sheer size of the storm. Hurricane force winds extend 115 miles from the center, with tropical force winds extending 225 miles from the eye. That puts Ike at 550 miles wide, covering the majority of the Gulf of Mexico.

At this time forecasters are looking for hurricane force winds of 80-90 mph in the triangle starting Friday evening or early Saturday. The storm surge for the area is expected to be 12-14 feet, which could put low lying areas such as Bridge City under water.

Deadlines for transportation from Orange County under the 211 system is midnight tonight at Vidor Elementary and 7 a.m. Friday morning for Lamar-Orange.

Assisted evacuations in Port Arthur will continue as long as the weather permits and resources are available. If you need transportation, you should go to the Bob Bower Civic Center in Port Arthur as soon as possible. Beaumont will cease their transportation operations at 6 a.m. Friday morning.

The Cities of Orange and West Orange have put a mandatory curfew in place for Thursday night. Orange County will have dusk till dawn curfew starting tomorrow.

You can click the buttons on the right for up to the minute advisories from the National Hurricane Center and the three county Emergency Management site for current information.

Stay tuned to for updates as soon as we get them.