GALVESTON, Texas – As repair crews work to make this hurricane-ravaged island city inhabitable for the thousands of residents set to return this week, the mayor is seeking more than $2 billion in emergency federal aid.
Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas estimated the final price tag to fully restore Galveston after Hurricane Ike plowed ashore early Sept. 13 and displaced most of the 57,000 or so residents would be about $2.4 billion.
Thomas, along with officials from the Port of Galveston and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will meet with a Senate ad hoc committee in Washington on Tuesday. They will seek $2.3 billion in emergency appropriations: nearly $1.2 billion for Galveston; about $600 million for the city's hospital; and about $500 million for the port.
"Is Galveston worth saving? That is the question you must decide," Thomas planned to tell Congress according to prepared testimony.
"We need help — lots of it."
Hurricane Ike battered Galveston with 110 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge and has been blamed for 61 deaths, including 26 in Texas.
More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast, and about 45,000 residents fled Galveston Island, about 50 miles southeast of Houston.
Many are expected back Wednesday, the first day officials were allowing residents to return to an island still sorely lacking basic services. Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said officials are working on a plan to provide temporary shelters on the mainland for those who find homes they can't live in. But LeBlanc stressed the shelters would be available only for a short time.
"It's not there to sustain life on the island," LeBlanc said. "We cannot possibly provide shelter and homes and setups for you long-term."
City leaders are also looking at setting up a shuttle service to take residents from the temporary shelters on the mainland to their houses during the day so they can make repairs and clean up.
LeBlanc reminded residents who planned to come back Wednesday that the city still only has limited medical, power, water and sewer system capabilities, and that life for them will be difficult upon their return. It could be several weeks before services are restored.
Residents of the island's west end, which was severely damaged by Ike, were allowed to begin visiting their homes Monday, but they will not be allowed to live in them until their power and water services are restored.
About one-third of customers in the Houston area remained without electricity Monday. Entergy Texas, which serves much of Southeast Texas, said it expected to have electric service restored to its hardest-hit areas by Sunday — a week sooner than previously forecasted.
American Red Cross officials said only about 7,600 evacuees remain in shelters around the state. That's down from a peak of more than 40,000 in the days after Hurricane Ike came ashore.
But the relief agency said Monday it isn't sure how long Texas operations will last.
"I can tell you we won't be measuring this operation in weeks," said Joe Becker, senior vice president of disaster services for the Red Cross. "We will be measuring this operation in months."
Gov. Rick Perry on Monday encouraged Texans to donate to the Texas Disaster Relief Fund to help communities slammed by Hurricane Ike. The Legislature has not given a significant amount of money to the state disaster relief fund in years, and the private fund was developed as an alternative after Hurricane Rita in 2005.