GALVESTON, Texas – Rescue crews canvassing neighborhoods with dump trucks, helicopters and airboats have saved nearly 2,000 residents who ignored evacuation orders and stayed to face Hurricane Ike, authorities said Sunday.
Heavy morning rains hampered rescue efforts in the hardest-hit areas of the Texas and Louisiana coasts, but crews worked around the clock to go door-to-door to find any survivors of the massive storm. Those plucked from flooded homes were being loaded onto a fleet of buses, bound for shelters farther north.
Leaders in communities along the devastated coast warned it would be weeks, even months, before the towns were livable. Two-story homes had been flattened into pancakes, yachts were tossed like toys onto major roads, and utilities were cut off.
"Galveston has been hit hard. We have no power. We have no gas. We have no communications. We're not sure when any of that will be up and running," Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. "We want our citizens to stay where they are. Do not come back to Galveston. You cannot live here right now."
President Bush planned to travel to Texas on Tuesday to express sympathy and lend support to the storm's victims. He asked people who evacuated before the hurricane to listen to local authorities before trying to return home.
The storm had frozen the nation's fourth-largest city as it moved inland. Houston officials imposed a weeklong curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. because most of the city was still without power. Darkened streetlights and pooled water on highways made it difficult to drive. Schools called off classes Monday, and the downtown business was shuttered until further notice. The airports also were closed to flights.
"In the interest of safety, we're asking people to not be out in the streets in their vehicles or on foot," Chief Harold Hurtt said.
Residents of the tiny community of Seabrook, near Johnson Space Center, were met by a roadblock as they tried to return home, and police officers standing in the rain turned them away. At times the line was six to 12 cars deep.
"It's gonna be a while," an officer shouted to one man as he made a U-turn. "Just listen to the news."
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 Labor Day's Hurricane Gustav. In Hackberry, La., about 15 miles from the coast, workers moved a large shrimp boat out of the highway with a bulldozer, but the team had to stop because of strong currents in the floodwaters and difficulty in seeing the roadway.
"You can't see the sides of the road, and if you left the road, you'd just be swept away," National Guard spokeswoman Sgt. Rebekah Malone said. About 20 people had been evacuated by boat in Hackberry.
Hundreds of residents were wrapped around a high school in Galveston, some carrying pets, overstuffed duffel bags and medication as they waited to board a coach bus to a shelter. Some didn't know where they were going, and even more didn't know when they could return.
Ldyyan Jonjocque, 61, waited to board a bus while holding the leashes of her four Australian shepherd dogs. she said she had to leave two dogs behind in her home. She wept when she recounted officers having to rescue her in a dump truck.
"I have nowhere to go," she said.
On one side of the Galveston peninsula, two barges had broken loose and smashed into homes. Everything from red vinyl barstools to clay roof tiles littered the landscape. The second floor of some homes sat where the first had been before Ike's surge washed it out, and only framed remained below the roofs of others, opening a clear view from front yard to back.
Eight deaths were blamed on the storm — five in Texas, two in Louisiana and one in Arkansas. Authorities said Sunday three people were found dead in Galveston, including one person found in a submerged vehicle near the airport. Another person died in Arkansas when a tree fell on his mobile home as the remnants swept through.
In Orange, Texas, Mayor Brown Claybar estimated about a third of the city of 19,000 people was flooded, from 6 inches of water to 6 feet. He said about 375 people who stayed behind during the storm had begun to emerge, some needing food, water and medical care.
"These people got out with the wet shirts on their back," said Claybar. He said he did not know how many were still stranded, and didn't know exactly how long it would take to pump water out of the city.
Ike was the first major storm to directly hit a major U.S. metro area since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.
Ike weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday morning, but was still packing winds up to 35 mph as it dumped rain over Arkansas and traveled across Missouri. Tornado warning sirens sounded Saturday in parts of Arkansas, and the storm downed trees and knocked out power to thousands there.
Rescue crews were still finding it difficult to get into some flooded neighborhoods, and were angered so many defied evacuation orders. Though more than a million people did leave, by some estimates, as many as 140,000 stayed.
SWAT team commander Sgt. Rodney Harrison and five other members of the Port Arthur Police Department drove a 2 1/2-ton truck into the waters to search for victims in Sabine Pass near the Louisiana border Sunday morning. The waters were so intense and the roads so blocked, a gear shift broke off in the driver's hand.
"You have people that have families at home who put their lives on the line to come out here and save somebody that made a bad decision," he said. "I don't think that's right. I don't think that's fair to everybody."