- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

UPDATED:

HOUSTON (AP) More Hurricane Ike relief was on the way for evacuees Tuesday as tens of thousands of people waited for food, water and ice, for the electricity to return to their homes or for their first hot meal and shower. President Bush viewed devastated areas, and urged people across the country to donate money to speed recovery.

The number of distribution centers was to be quadrupled to 60 to deliver food, water and ice. Still, for some, the wait for a return to normalcy could be days. For others, it could be weeks.

“A good bath would be nice: have the fire department swing by and spray us down,” said Carlos Silliman, 48, as he sat on a picnic bench in front of his Galveston Island home, where 18 inches of water flooded his garage and ruined a freezer full of venison. “I’m ready to have a cold beer and read the paper.”

For most, such luxuries are far beyond the horizon. Many service stations have no gasoline, and some major highways remain under water. More than 30,000 evacuees are still living in nearly 300 public shelters, and roughly 2 million people in Texas alone are without power.

Ike’s survivors have already walked for miles and waited for hours at supply distribution centers, gobbling up all that was offered: 1 million bottles of water, 1 million meals and 600,000 pounds of ice in just the first 36 hours after the storm passed.

It’s not enough, and those dispatching truck after truck to distribution centers around the city know it. One center north of Houston drew 10,000 people Monday in search of food and water.

President Bush took an aerial tour of the damage Tuesday, then immediately urged Americans to give money to help people recover from Ike. He warned against letting “disaster fatigue” slow donations when the need remains great.

Recovering from Ike is going to be a long process: Beaches are scoured clean of vacation homes, oil-slicked water and beaches are coated with a sheen in Galveston even burial vaults were wrenched from the soggy ground by the storm’s surge.

“I have been president long enough to have seen tough situations, and have seen the resilience of the people to be able to deal with the tough situations,” Bush said. “I know with proper help from the federal government and the state government, there will be a better tomorrow.”

Through Galveston’s deserted streets, dogs, cats, and cattle roamed free. Many of the elderly huddled in damaged houses, walking or using bikes when they had to leave because cars were destroyed or damaged. Some pushed salvaged shopping carts down the seawall avenue filled with crates of bottled water and plastic brown pouches holding army MREs obtained from relief centers.

“They’re all over the place,” said Sheila Savage, a Galveston resident who has been bringing food and water to elderly friends who wouldn’t leave because they have no family or other relatives elsewhere. “Their homes were all they have.”

Officials on the barrier island said it could be months before the city of Galveston reopens. The main gas and a primary electric transmission line to the island were severely damaged by Ike, which also tore at the wharves in the city’s port. Officials warned that mosquito-borne diseases could begin to spread after one elderly man was airlifted to a hospital covered with hundreds of bites.

Galveston officials were allowing residents to come back during daylight hours to inspect their homes but then wanted them to leave swiftly because the island was still dangerous. They have repeatedly insisted that people who stay after the storm are doing so at their own risk.

“We have a blossoming health and medical concern,” said Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. “We’re not going to go in someone’s house and drag them off the island, but they need to consider the risks they are taking by staying there.”

Across the entrance to Galveston Bay on Bolivar Peninsula, a resort community where entire neighborhoods were obliterated by the height of Ike’s storm surge, only a handful of buildings remained standing in the town of Gilchrist. Aaron Reed, a spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said the town “is almost completely gone. Like somebody took a razor and went pffft.”

After scouring almost all of the western end of the peninsula by nightfall Monday, officials said they had found no dead. But Aaron Reed, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said he had spoken with residents who weren’t able to find fellow holdouts after the storm, and he feared their bodies might turn up as the waters recede.

“I think when the water goes down (in the bayous), we’ll start finding some bodies,” he said. “I think, unfortunately, that we will discover more people, if not in this area then on the other side of the bay.”

Home designer and builder Bobby Anderson limped off the peninsula late Monday in a pickup truck battered by the storm, saying Ike swept out to sea a woman who had clung with him to a building’s rafters. When asked to describe their ordeal, he refused.

“I’d really rather not,” Anderson said.

Ike’s death toll officially stood at 41 Tuesday, with most of the deaths coming outside of Texas. Among those killed in the state were at least three people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after using generators.

Amid all the devastation, there were signs recovery is moving forward. Houston Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan said emergency calls dropped dramatically by Monday afternoon, and Mayor Bill White rescinded a mandate to boil water. White also said residents of the Clear Lake area, which had been under a mandatory evacuation order, could safely return home.

There also were signs the oil industry was perking back to life: Valero Energy Corp., North America’s largest refiner, said it had regained limited power at two of three shuttered facilities in Houston and Texas City while its plant in Port Arthur remained dark.

Associated Press Writers Eileen Sullivan in Washington, Pauline Arrillaga in San Antonio, Michael Kunzelman and Allen G. Breed in Orange, Jay Root in Austin, Christopher Sherman and Jon Gambrell in Galveston, Monica Rohr in Houston and April Castro in Austin contributed to this report.

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