| 37,000 hurricane evacuees in shelters face indefinite wait
| Tuesday, September 16, 2008
|HOUSTON – Thousands of victims of Hurricane Ike settled in at shelters for what could be weeks, and others waited wearily in line for food, water, ice and gasoline Monday.
It was becoming clear that the disaster along the Texas coast would be measured not by its death toll but by the misery it spread.
Almost three days after the storm steamrolled the coast, the extent of the damage was still coming into focus, with rescue teams finally reaching some of the hardest-hit and most inaccessible places, including Bolivar Peninsula, a resort area on Galveston Bay where neighborhoods were obliterated.
Homes were wiped from foundations and stilts jutted up from the sand – but those residents who ignored evacuation orders and remained on the island were alive, buoying the spirits of rescue crews.
While the number of confirmed deaths was still remarkably low – most of the 39 deaths blamed on Ike were outside of Texas – the distress was considerable.
More than 37,000 people were in shelters, and there was no word on when those living in the most devastated towns, such as Galveston, might return. Officials were asking evacuees not to return to many areas that don't have basic services.
More than 2 million people in Texas alone remained without power. Many service stations had no gasoline, or no electricity to pump it. With no running water, some residents were dumping toilet waste directly into the sewers.
Parts of major highways were still under water.
Victims grew irritable as they waited for food and water. Some relief stations ran out of supplies, leaving thousands hungry and panicked.
Lines of cars stretched two hours or longer at Texas Southern University for packages of bottled water and bags of ice, the only supplies on hand until three 18-wheelers showed up around noon. Cheers broke out when it was announced there were boxes with chili, a small bag of Frito chips and a cookie.
Risk Management Solutions is estimating Hurricane Ike's damage from wind and the storm surge at $6 billion to $16 billion.
Galveston officials guessed it would be months before the island, where oil coated the water and beaches with a sheen, could reopen, and warned that mosquito-borne diseases could begin to spread. Cows from flooded pastures wandered around a shattered neighborhood. An elderly man was airlifted to a hospital, his body covered with hundreds of mosquito bites after his splintered home was swarmed.
"Galveston can no longer safely accommodate its population," City Manager Steve LeBlanc said. "Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for people who remain on the island."
Bridge staying closed
City officials said they did not expect electricity and natural gas to be restored on the entire island for at least a month and that it might take more than a year to remove all the debris. Water should be running within the next couple of weeks, they said.
Officials said the bridge onto the island would remain closed to all but emergency workers for several more days, or at least until safety concerns could be addressed.
And a sludge that officials said posed serious health problems was everywhere. It apparently is a mixture of mud, sewage, asbestos, lead and gasoline
One resident, John Strange, said the bugs that were emerging from the sludge were just too overwhelming.
"They could fly away with your hat," he said. "The roaches are bigger than I've ever seen ... The mosquitoes are as big as your thumbnail. You name them, you know, like 'Hey, George.' "
Meanwhile, thousands of evacuees streamed into shelters. As local officials sternly warned it wasn't safe to come home, many wondered how long they would be there, how they would pay for meals, and what was happening to their families.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged people to be patient, calling rescue workers "heroes" who were doing their best to help their neighbors.
At a shopping center in Houston, honking motorists in a line of cars stretching for more than a mile advanced quickly to the front, as if in a fast food drive-in, as some 15 Texas National Guardsmen rushed to load crates of food, ice, drinks and other nonperishable supplies into the trunks of the autos.
Search and rescue
Search-and-rescue teams worried that the worst devastation has yet to be found.
Rescue crews were still going door-to-door in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, and the days after the storm were proving to be riddled with dangers.
At least three people were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning after using generators.
A team of 115 searchers flew into Bolivar Peninsula, the last unexplored part of the Texas coast, and feared they would find more dead. They saw homes that were splintered or completely washed away in the beachfront community that is home to about 30,000 people in the peak summer season.
But after several hours, they found no dead.
Gilchrist, a town on the peninsula, "is almost completely gone. Like somebody took a razor and went pffft," said Aaron Ramon Reed, Texas Parks & Wildlife spokesman.
One man who collects exotic animals was holed up in a Baptist church with his pet lion.
"We're not going in there," said Chuck Jones, who led a task force on the peninsula said. "We know where he [the lion] is on the food chain."
On High Island, a community of about 500 on the barrier island, houses were torn off their foundations, the smell of oil from tanks in surrounding marshfields hung heavy in the air. Miraculously, the houses where people stayed were standing, as if the storm chose to destroy only the empty ones.
|posted by Moderator Londen time 4:48 PM