After Ike, Thousands of Evacuees Wait to Return Home

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Hurricane Ike's deadly surge has kept thousands of evacuees holed up in some cramped quarters in Texas — shelters, recreational vehicles, even a warehouse — as they face the prospect of returning to flood-ravaged neighborhoods left dark without electricity.

Others huddled in motels in the hopes that they had enough money to stay until it was safe to return — that is, if they had homes to return to.

"We don't know if it's floating through the Sabine Pass right now or not," said Clint Matthews, worried about his house near a canal in a low-lying area of Port Arthur, Texas. The ex-Marine and his wife hunkered down in a Tyler motel, and he said they would stay until their money ran out. But that could come sooner rather than later.

"Right now, this is all we've got," Nical said, holding out a cluster of cash.

More than 1.2 million people fled the Texas coast as Ike approached, but officials estimated as many as 140,000 defied evacuation orders and stayed to ride out the enormous Category 2 storm. Rescue crews canvassed neighborhoods through the night to save those who stayed from having to spend another night amid flattened houses, strewn debris and downed power lines.

The Red Cross said more than 20,000 people have stayed in 150 shelters in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas since Ike's approach. But the Red Cross reported problems setting up more shelters in the Houston area because some sites are without power or water — or cannot be reached due to debris blocking roads.

In Huntsville, about 65 miles north of Houston, a fourth shelter was set up Sunday. About 1,700 people took refuge in those shelters, the Red Cross said.

In San Antonio, about 140 miles inland, shelters held nearly 5,000 evacuees. More than 4,000 people rode out the storm in tents, RVs and campers, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In Tyler, about 200 miles inland, 3,400 evacuees took temporary refuge and it became clear that some shelters would not suffice for the long term. City spokeswoman Susan Guthrie said officials were trying to figure out what to do with 1,600 people huddled inside what once served as a Wal-Mart warehouse.

Evacuee Terrance Bryant was staying at a church-turned-shelter in Tyler. But Bryant, who also fled Beaumont two weeks ago ahead of Hurricane Gustav, was not looking forward to a long stay.

"I can't do this for two weeks," said Bryant, 22, who was at the shelter with three siblings and his mother. "I just can't."

Despite the inconvenience, Bryant and many others found the shelters more desirable than the possibility of being stranded in their own homes without power, food and running water. Nicole Calderon, 23, said she and 10 of her family members would stay until it was safe to return to their La Porte home.

"We don't want to be stranded over there and not have a place to stay," Calderon said as she cradled her 22-month-old son, Jiovanie, in her arms. Nearby, fellow evacuees and volunteers at the massive San Antonio shelter munched on hot dogs and canned fruit, their gaze fixed on the latest weather. "Here we have a place to sleep and eat. We're just going to wait and see what they tell us."