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Texas battles Ike's wake

GALVESTON, Texas — State officials mounted the largest rescue operation in Texas history Sunday, taking nearly 2,000 people by boat and helicopter out of coastal towns ravaged by Hurricane Ike.

At the same time, millions coped without electricity and faced shortages of food, water and gasoline. Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, was reduced to near-paralysis in some places and placed under a weeklong curfew.

As the floodwaters began to recede from the first hurricane to make a direct hit on a major U.S. city since Katrina, authorities planned to go door-to-door into the night to reach an untold number of people across the Texas coast who rode out the storm and were still in their homes, many without power or supplies.

Many of those who did make it to safety boarded buses without knowing where they would end up, and without knowing when they could return to what was left of their homes, if anything.

"I don't know what I'll be coming back to. I have nothing," said Arma Eaglin, 52, who was waiting for a bus to a shelter in San Antonio after leaving her home and wading through chest-deep water with nothing but her clothes. "I'm confused. I don't know what to do."

The hurricane battered the heart of the U.S. oil industry: Federal officials said Ike destroyed a number of production platforms, though it was too soon to know how seriously it would affect oil and gas prices.

Ike was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved into the nation's midsection and left more harm in its wake.

The death toll from the storm rose to 25 in nine states. Five were in the hard-hit barrier island city of Galveston, including one body found in a vehicle submerged in floodwater at the airport. Many deaths, however, came outside of Texas as the storm moved north.

Rescue workers expressed fears that more bodies were still to be found in unexplored areas swamped by the hurricane's storm surge, including the Bolivar Peninsula, a spit of land just east of Galveston, where the storm surge was at its most intense and many houses were reduced to rubble.

Ike's 110 mph winds and battering waves left Galveston without electricity, gas and basic communications — and officials estimated it may not be restored for a month.

Authorities said Sunday afternoon that 1,984 people had been rescued, including 394 by air. In addition to people who were literally plucked to safety, the figure includes people who were met by crews as they waded through floodwaters trying to get to dry ground.

Still others chose to remain in their homes along the Texas coast even after the danger of the storm had passed. There was no immediate count Sunday of how many people remained in their homes, or how many were in danger.

The search-and-rescue effort included more than 50 helicopters, 1,500 searchers and teams from federal, state and local agencies.

Rescue crews vowed to continue the search until they had knocked on every door, and planned to work through the night for the second day in a row. They were helped by receding floodwaters, but there were constant surprises as people rowed and sloshed through towns.

Once evacuees were safe and dry, there was another problem — where they would go. Some buses went to shelters in San Antonio and Austin.

Shelters across Texas scurried to find enough cots, and some people arrived with little cash and no idea of what the coming days held. About 42,000 people were at state and Red Cross shelters Saturday night, the Red Cross reported.

The region was facing a secondary health emergency that follows a storm when there is no power, no water and no functioning sewers.

Officials begged residents scattered in shelters not to return to Galveston or other hard-hit areas.

"We want our citizens to stay where they are," Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. "Do not come back to Galveston. You cannot live here at this time."

Shipments of food and water provided by the federal government were being transported late Sunday to Reliant Stadium in Houston, but still had not arrived.

Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, said it remained unclear when the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be able to begin distributing the aid, in part because Washington had originally expected state and local officials to take care of handing out the food.

Asked if the change in plans had slowed the delivery, Chertoff said, "I don't think it is a question of a significant delay."

The storm also took a toll in Louisiana, where hundreds of homes were flooded and power outages worsened as the state struggles to recover from Hurricane Gustav, which struck over Labor Day.

President Bush made plans to visit the area Tuesday. On his trip to Texas, Bush said, he intends to express "the federal government's support — sympathy on the one hand and support on the other — for this recovery effort and rebuilding effort."

The oil industry was trying to find out how severe damage was to at least 10 production platforms hit by the storm. Specifics about the size and production capacity of the platforms were not immediately available, but the damage was to a fraction of the 3,800 platforms in the Gulf. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina destroyed 44 platforms.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Texas battles Ike's wake 09/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 5:05pm]
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