The fourth largest city in the nation and the largest in the entire South and Southwest, Houston is a port of entry; a great industrial, commercial, and financial hub; one of the world's major oil centers; and the second busiest tonnage-handling port in the United States (after New York). Houston has numerous space and science research firms; electronics plants; giant oil refineries; high-tech and computer-technology industries; one of the world's greatest concentrations of petrochemical works; steel and paper mills; shipyards; breweries; meatpacking houses; and factories manufacturing oil-drilling equipment, clothing, glass, and seismic instruments. More recently, Houston has become a major center of finance with a large number of banks, many of them foreign. The Texas Medical Center is the world's largest hospital complex and a leading medical research facility. Houston is served by two international airports and Ellington Field, a joint use civil and military airport. Cruise ships began sailing from the port in 1997. Because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the city is subject to hurricanes, and its relatively flat geography makes it prone to flooding.
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