GALVESTON – About 250 people who withstood Hurricane Ike on a coastal sliver of land will be forced off it so crews can begin the recovery effort. President George W. Bush surveyed the damage by helicopter and urged Americans to donate money to victims.
The massive storm has been blamed for the deaths of 48 people since hitting the U.S. Gulf Coast over the weekend. It stranded more than 30,000 evacuees in shelters and left about 2 million Texans without power. The storm earlier claimed more than 80 lives in the Caribbean.
Areas such as the resort barrier island of Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston, were almost completely wiped out. Authorities said Tuesday that holdouts there will be required to leave in the next few days so crews could begin the recovery effort, and they are prepared to impose martial law if needed to empty the barrier island.
County Judge Jim Yarbrough, the top elected official in Galveston County, said those who defied warnings that they would be killed if they rode out the storm on the Bolivar Peninsula are a "hardy bunch" and there are some "old timers who aren't going to want to leave."
The Texas attorney general's office is trying to figure out how legally to force the holdouts to leave, Yarbrough said. Local authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to get residents to a safer place.
The peninsula is too damaged for residents to stay, and with no gas, no power and no running water, there is also concern about the spread of disease, officials said.
Bush, who drew scorn for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,600 people in 2005, on Tuesday warned against letting "disaster fatigue" slow donations to victims when the need remains great.
Bush took an aerial tour of the damage, with his helicopter flying low along the Texas coastline. From the air, he could see homes left with only foundations, roofs torn from buildings, and roads and beaches strewn with debris.
The president's next stop was the island of Galveston, which was torn apart when Ike made landfall on Saturday as a Category 2 storm with 110 mph (177 kph) winds. After a quick briefing in Galveston, Bush left Texas, after spending less than three hours in the region.
Authorities may never know if people who tried to weather the storm were washed out to sea. So far, there are no confirmed fatalities, but Yarbrough and other officials said he did not think that would hold.
Most of Houston was still without power late Tuesday, with CenterPoint Energy projecting most would be without electricity for another week. Residents again waited in line for hours on end at the 22 supply distribution centers set up in Houston to hand out food, water and ice.
The mayor of the fourth-largest U.S. city complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not bringing in the supplies fast enough. Houston Mayor Bill White also asked that a federal supervisor at a distribution center be fired for telling the drivers of two trucks — one filled with ice and the other with food — to turn around. The supervisor thought the site was stocked, but it was not.
FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde said he was not aware of the situation Houston's mayor described, but said Judge Ed Emmett — the top elected official in Harris County — was now personally coordinating the efforts to hand out relief supplies.
"We've set up a distribution system to deliver millions of meals and water in literally a 24-hour period," Bahamonde said. "There were glitches along the way. But by the end of the day, we had refined some of those glitches and we'll see that progress more."
The mayor eased Houston's curfew, now from midnight to 6 a.m., but urged motorists to stay off the streets after dark. So far, about 100 people have been cited for curfew violations and 94 arrested for looting, authorities said.
Bahamonde said FEMA will begin paying for 30 days of hotel expenses for homeowners whose houses are uninhabitable.
There were still long lines snaking out of gas stations across the city. White said some stations were still without power, rendering their pumps useless. Others had electricity but were out of gas.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, under pressure from frustrated residents eager to check their homes, opened the island during daylight hours so residents can "look and leave." Security was tight, and checkpoints were set up to block anyone but Galveston residents from coming in.
Hours later, Thomas suspended the "look and leave" policy altogether, after thousands of residents rushed to return — creating a traffic jam that stretched for miles (kilometers).
Thomas also said officials want the estimated 15,000 people still living on Galveston Island to leave, since the city has only limited water and sewer service, and no electricity.
Dogs, cats and cattle were freely roaming Galveston's mostly deserted streets. Many of the elderly huddled in damaged houses, walking or using bikes when they had to leave because cars were destroyed or damaged. Some pushed salvaged shopping carts down Seawall Boulevard filled with crates of bottled water and plastic brown pouches holding military-style meals-ready-to-eat obtained from relief centers.
A lion was trapped in the sanctuary of a Baptist church in Crystal Beach, and a tiger was on the loose after getting free from an exotic pet sanctuary. An official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the tidal surge from Ike left a "sheen" of oil on the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, potentially endangering rare species of birds and other animals.
Ike missed the largest concentrations of oil and gas refineries. But at least 14 Texas refineries closed before the storm made landfall, removing more than 20 percent of the United States' petroleum refining capacity. Ike also destroyed at least a dozen production platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
It may be several weeks before the nation's refining capacity is restored, but two major pipelines were up and running again, and power has been restored to a number of massive refineries. Valero Energy Corp., North America's largest refiner, said it had regained limited power at two of three shuttered facilities.
Meanwhile, the remnants of Ike continued to move through the central U.S., causing flooding and power outages and spawning hurricane-force winds in some areas. More than 1 million people in at least five Midwestern states were without power