Howling ashore with 110 mile-per-hour (177 kilometre-per-hour) winds, Hurricane Ike ravaged the Texas coast on Saturday, flooding thousands of homes and businesses, shattering windows in Houston's skyscrapers and knocking out power to millions of people.
At first light, it was unclear how many may have perished, and authorities mobilised for a huge search-and-rescue operation to reach the more than 100,000 people who ignored warnings from authorities that any attempt to ride the storm out could cause death.
With the winds still blowing, authorities in some places could not venture outside to get a full look at the damage, but they were encouraged that the storm surge topped out at only 13.5 feet (4 meters) - far lower than the catastrophic 20-to-25-foot (6-to-7.5-meter) wall of water forecasters had feared.
The storm, nearly as big as Texas itself, blasted a 500-mile (800-kilometre) stretch of coastline in Louisiana and Texas.
It breached levees, flooded roads and led more than one (m) million people to evacuate and seek shelter inland.
Officials in Houston and along the coast reported receiving thousands of distress calls overnight but they were unable to respond because of the dangerous hurricane conditions.
Emergency responders were fanning out on Saturday morning from the Reliant Centre in Houston to take stock of the damage and rescue any holdouts who needed help
Ike passed directly over downtown Houston before dawn, blowing out windows in Texas' tallest buildings.
Mindful of the deadly chaos that ensured in 2005 when the fourth-largest US city emptied out ahead of Hurricane Rita, Houston officials evacuated only the lowest-lying areas of the city and told some two (m) million others to "hunker down" and ride out the storm at home.
It was expected to turn toward Arkansas later in the day and wind down to a tropical storm.
The only parts of Houston with power were downtown and the massive medical centre section.
Because of the hurricane's size, the state's shallow coastal waters and its largely unprotected coastline, forecasters said the biggest threat would be flooding and storm surge.
Ike was the first hurricane since Alicia in 1983 to land a direct hit on Houston.