ANAHUAC, Texas – Businesses were beginning to reopen, cell phone service was improving and power was coming back, but leaders warned that Texas' storm-wrecked Galveston Island remains dangerous more than a week after Hurricane Ike's devastating assault.
Fuel and other essentials remained scarce and police will indefinitely enforce a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew once the island reopens Wednesday.
And it could be weeks or more before basic services are restored in all areas. Still, the island is far from deserted — at least 15,000 people ignored mandatory evacuation orders before and after the storm, and many of them were still there Sunday.
Authorities had blamed the storm for 26 deaths in Texas and 61 total from remnants of the storm elsewhere in the U.S. midsection.
Wearing jeans and rubber boots, clutching Bibles and weeping between hymns, residents of the storm-shattered Texas coast comforted each other at makeshift church services.
Outside the Oak Island Baptist Church in Anahuac, about 50 people came together on a basketball court outside the Oak Island Baptist Church, just south of Interstate 10 about a mile from the tip of Trinity Bay. They sat on folding chairs or simply stood, forced outdoors by the 1-inch layer of mud left inside the single-story red brick building by floodwaters that tossed pews like matchsticks.
A demolished mobile home was still lodged among trees, many of them snapped by the storm's 110 mph winds that somehow left the church's trio of 20-foot white crosses still standing. Across the street, piles of debris had sprouted, proof of the labor undertaken since the storm blew through last weekend, and of the work yet to come.
"I know it's hard. Looking around, it's tough," the Rev. Eddie Shauberger told the congregants. "But there is a God, and he has a plan for our lives."
Similar services were being held on Galveston Island and throughout the Houston area, where power had been restored to enough residents that schools planned to hold classes Monday for the first time since the storm.
In Galveston, Bobby and Pamela Quiroga sought succor at a Mass set up in the historic Hotel Galvez. They went to their Roman Catholic church a week ago, the day after storm arrived, but it was closed.
"It's just good to be around people," Bobby Quiroga said. He added, letting his voice trail off, "When you feel a wave shake your house ...."
The newly married 42-year-olds were still trying to gather their senses eight days after watching their homes and businesses flooded by Ike's 12-foot surge.
"Fourteen steps, and we watched the water come up all the way up — even to the floor. Surreal," Quiroga said, his wife leaning on his shoulder.
She dabbed her swollen eyes with a hand towel and vowed never to live on the island again.
"When I fall asleep," she said, "I see the water rising."
Observances in the hardest-hit spots weren't overflowing with residents. Most of Galveston won't reopen until Wednesday.
But island leaders emphasized that Galveston would remain dangerous and parents were warned their children could be exposed to infections from storm debris and other hazards. Planes continued spraying the island to control mosquitoes. Officials urged those returning to wear masks to protect from mold and to properly dispose of spoiled food to stave off vermin.
Teams of cadaver dogs were still working their way through rubble and debris on Bolivar Peninsula, which suffered even heavier damage than Galveston. Evacuees from the peninsula will board dump trucks and other heavy vehicles this week to examine their homes, since the main road is impassible in many spots.
Power had been restored to most of the customers in Texas whose electricity was cut by Ike, and in some areas work was ahead of schedule.
Entergy Texas, which serves most of Southeast Texas east of the Trinity River, said Monday it expected to have electric service restored to its hardest-hit areas by Sunday — a week sooner than previous forecasts. Not included in the forecasts are High Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, where the transmission infrastructure will have to be rebuilt, said Joe Domino, president and chief executive officer of the Beaumont-based subsidiary of Entergy Corp.
About one-third of customers in the Houston area remained without electricity Monday morning.