GALVESTON, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry pointedly told reporters on several occasions Sunday that he hoped the Federal Emergency Management Agency would treat Texas better than the last time a big hurricane hit the state.
Perry previously criticized the agency's response after Hurricane Rita, which struck Texas in the days immediately after Katrina. Much of the nation's attention was focused on New Orleans and how it suffered through the natural disaster.
Perry said he was referring to recovery efforts, financial and otherwise, once life-saving search-and-rescue operations are completed.
"During Rita and the aftermath of Katrina, Texas was treated differently than Louisiana, for instance on debris removal ... It doesn't hurt to start that conversation early," Perry said.
"Our pleas is that we be treated at least as good as Louisiana," in recovery efforts this time, Perry said.
Perry walked out of the Galveston Justice Center Sunday, apparently without planning to speak to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Someone traveling with the governor stopped him, and Perry went back inside and re-emerged about three minutes later to leave.
At a news conference about 30 minutes later, Chertoff told reporters that FEMA's efforts are always "based on need" and he thought the federal government so far was doing an excellent job.
"This is an example of .... the federal government leaning forward as far as possible to give assistance where it's needed," Chertoff said in response to a question about why Perry repeatedly mentioned Louisiana when talking to reporters.
Later in Houston, Perry said he was referring to recovery efforts, financial and otherwise, once search-and-rescue is completed.
Perry touched down in Galveston during a flyover of storm-damaged areas. Joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas homeland security director Steve McCraw, Perry saw the damage for himself from a Texas National Guard Blackhawk helicopter and met with local officials in Galveston. The group also stopped briefly in Houston but an early morning trip to Beaumont was called off because bad weather made it impossible to take helicopters into the area.
After landing, Perry, Dewhurst and McCraw first went to a news conference with local officials, where Perry said, "Hurricane Ike had a pretty good punch, but he didn't dent our spirits."
A short drive around town gave them an up close look of the destruction.
In Galveston, the contrast was striking between the gentle waves nuzzling ashore on Sunday and the damage wrought by a violent storm surge less then two days earlier.
Water marks were visible several feet up the walls of some inland homes. Storm debris — fallen power poles, trees, billboards, backyard fences, a refrigerator — littered every street as Dewhurst remarked "Holy mackerel! Look at that!" several times.
Few people or cars were on the street. Two women stood at the Galveston seawall to share a bottle of water. A man with long hair and a beard walked alone while another man chomped a cigar while his large dog watched small, rolling waves.
Down the street, someone hitched a pole to a damaged pickup truck and hoisted an American flag that whipped in the breeze.
"That's pretty strong," Perry said.
Other residents, possibly facing weeks without power, lined up for promised food, water and ice. McCraw said thousands of residents who rode out the storm no longer wanted to stay and were being bused to San Antonio or Houston. He said the state planned for as many as 10,500 post-storm evacuees.
Perry called the pre-storm evacuation a "great success" even though tens of thousands in the storm's target areas of Galveston and other towns decided to stay put.
"We had a few hard heads, but we always do," Perry said.
After the short drive through Galveston, Perry, Dewhurst and McCraw were back in the helicopters viewing Galveston Island's heavily damaged west end.
Perry marveled at how many of the waterfront homes built on stilts survived the storm. But just a bit farther down, dozens of mobile homes and recreational vehicles were smashed and jumbled. Off in the distance, dozens of large vessels could be seen waiting in the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico for the Houston Ship Channel to reopen.
"It's going to be a while," Perry said, "before Galveston gets back to normal."