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Highway 146 in Seabrook, Texas, after Ike passed through. (Kevin M. Cox/Galveston County Daily News/AP)

Tropical storm Ike was moving inland in Texas Saturday evening, leaving a massive cleanup job in Galveston and Houston in its wake.

Rescue crews were wading through Galveston's flooded streets, checking on thousands of residents who chose to tough out the storm.

They were using high-wheel trucks, helicopters and boats to get around the island city.

"We are in a recovery mode," Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told reporters. 

The causeway linking the city to the mainland was damaged and closed, and at least 17 buildings were destroyed.

But the damage could have been a lot worse; the storm surge — the waves whipped up by the wind — was only about three or four metres above normal, causing much less damage than the originally predicted seven-or-eight-metre surge would have.

Downed power lines left more than three million customers in Texas and 140,000 in Louisiana without electricity.

At least two people died in Texas as a direct result of Ike. A falling tree killed a woman near Pinehurst, and a man was washed off a jetty near Corpus Christi.

Houston towers rained glass

In downtown Houston, windows from buildings — including the 75-storey JPMorgan Chase Tower — fell into the streets below. Pieces of office furniture and documents littered  the area.

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Houston streets are littered with broken glass and debris after tropical storm Ike passed through the city. ((Pauline Arrillaga/Associated Press))

"It looks like a bomb went off over there,"  Houston Police officer Joseph Ledet said.

U.S. President George W. Bush declared the area a major disaster and ordered federal aid.

At 5 p.m. ET Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ike was continuing to weaken as it moved inland. The storm warning along the Texas and Louisiana coast was discontinued.

The centre was forecast to move through northeastern Texas and into Arkansas Saturday night.

The storm forced more than a million people to seek shelter away from the coast.

With files from the Associated Press