After Ike, Texas survivors clamor for gas, food

Monday, September 15th 2008, 5:57 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Rescuers flew into a hard-to-reach area of the swamped Gulf Coast Monday and uncovered a devastated landscape: Hurricane Ike had obliterated entire subdivisons, and emergency crews feared they would find more victims than survivors.

It was the first time anyone had gotten a look at the damaged resort barrier island of Bolivar Peninsula, just east of hard-hit Galveston. Homes were splintered or completely washed away in the beachfront community that is home to about 30,000 people in the peak summer season.

"They had a lot of devastation over there," said Chuck Jones, the leader of the task force that landed on the island.

Two days after Ike battered the Texas and Louisiana coasts before striking Houston, the death toll rose to 30 in eight states, many of them far to the north of the Gulf Coast as the storm slogged across the nation's midsection, leaving a trail of flooding.

A massive effort was under way across Texas to get food, water and ice to people who had no power. It could be weeks until the more than 2 million without power have their lights turned on again. Lines snaked for blocks down side streets at gas stations that had little fuel to pump, and thousands packed shelters looking for dry places to sleep.

"Quite frankly we are reaching a health crisis for the people who remain on the island," said Steve LeBlanc, the city manager in Galveston, where at least a third of the community's 60,000 residents remained in their homes.

A line of at least 30 cars formed early Monday at a strip mall in Orange, a Texas town on the Louisiana state line east of Beaumont, a day after food and water were distributed there by the National Guard. But the line dispersed after state troopers told the gathering that supplies would be passed out elsewhere.

Wanda Hamor, 49, of Orange, was fifth in line with her 21-year-old son William. They were trapped in their house by floodwaters until Monday morning before they could venture out. They had run out of food Sunday night. They left for Hurricane Gustav on Labor Day and say they couldn't afford to leave for Ike or buy any more than $60 in food.

"He's diabetic and he has to eat four times a day," she said of her son.

Mary Shelton, 71, and her neighbor Letha Wilson, 78, sat in their sport utility vehicle waiting to get supplies at a distribution center in Houston. "We need some ice. What are going to drink? Hot water?" Shelton said.

Houston, littered with glass from skyscrapers, was placed under a weeklong curfew. While spots of downtown had power, trees still blocked streets and restaurants and businesses were closed. Planes were taking off and arriving at the airports again, but there were some delays, and the normally bustling highways were nearly vacant at rush hour.

Tensions were rising among more than 1,000 who had spent several nights at the city's George R. Brown Convention Center. They complained that they couldn't get information about how to get food and clean clothes. The city's mayor said only 1,300 people were inside, but those sleeping on cots said it felt like thousands.

Michael Stevenson, 37, had wandered from shelter to shelter since the storm struck before ending up at the convention center. At one shelter, he said, he barely ate.

"They give you a little cup of water every four hours. They feed us one peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We were in there for about 18 hours before we could go outside and get some air," he said.

Beginning cleanup was still a distant thought as rescue teams continued going door-to-door to look for survivors and bring them to shelters. Crews had no idea what they would find on Bolivar Peninsula, which from the air, revealed house after shattered house.

Of particular concern is a resident who collects exotic animals who is now holed up in a Baptist church with his pet lion. "We're not going in there," Jones said. "We know where he (the lion) is on the food chain."

Snapshots of damage were emerging everywhere: In Galveston, oil was coating the water and beaches with a sheen, and residents were ordered off the beach. Dozens of cement vaults popped up out of the water-swollen ground, many disgorging their coffins. Several came to rest against a chain link fence, choked with garbage and trinkets left behind by mourners.

George Levias shook his head when he discovered the graves of his mother-in-law and best friend open. He recognized the casket of co-worker Leonard Locks by its ceramic floral handles.

"I just don't know what to say," the 75-year-old Levias said as he walked gingerly among open graves filled with water. "Loved ones being disturbed like that."

Rescuers said they had saved nearly 2,000 people from waterlogged streets and splintered houses by Sunday afternoon. Many had ignored evacuation orders and tried to ride out the storm. Now they were boarding buses for indefinite stays at shelters in San Antonio and Austin.

There were still at least 37,000 evacuees seeking temporary shelter in the state's 284 facilities, officials said Monday.

Canned goods and thawing meat were helping Susie Griffin feed her husband, 24-year-old daughter and 2-year-old grandson in a home with no water. But the Orange resident didn't know how long that would last -- she is running out, and was first in line to get food, water and ice from a National Guard supply station Sunday.

"Once it defrosts, you're in trouble," she said of the small amount of meat she has in her freezer. "I don't think anything is open. You have to go to Louisiana, but you've gotta have gas to go there."

Ike was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved north. Roads were closed in Kentucky because of high winds. As far north as Chicago, dozens of people in a suburb had to be evacuated by boat. Two million people were without power in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Of the 30 dead, five were in Galveston, including one body found in a vehicle submerged in floodwater at the airport. There were two other deaths in Texas and six in Louisiana, including a 16-year-old boy trapped in rising floodwaters. Several were farther inland.

Two golfers died when a tree fell on them in Tennessee. There were six deaths in Indiana; three died in Missouri. One person died in Arkansas and three in Ohio, including two motorcyclists killed when a tree toppled on them at a state park. But the toll still paled in comparison to what Ike did elsewhere before arriving: The storm claimed more than 80 lives in the Caribbean before reaching Texas.


Associated Press Writers Michael Kunzelman in Orange, Juan A. Lozano and Jon Gambrell in Galveston, Allen G. Breed in Sabine Pass, Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, La., and Pauline Arrillaga and Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)