GALVESTON – The few hundred holdouts on Texas' ravaged Bolivar Peninsula will be required to leave in the next few days, and officials said Tuesday they are ready to use emergency powers to empty the barrier island scraped clean by Hurricane Ike.
Judge Jim Yarbrough, the top elected official in Galveston County, said the roughly 250 people who defied warnings they would be killed if they rode out the storm in the rural coastal community 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 looking into the legal options available to force the remaining residents leave, Yarbrough said. Local authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to get residents to a safer place.
"I don't want to do it," he said. "I'm doing it because it's in their best interests."
The sliver of land is just too damaged for residents to stay there, and the population must be cleared so that recovery can begin, officials said. With no gas, no power and no running water, there is also concern about spread of disease.
Entire neighborhoods on Bolivar Peninsula — home to about 30,000 people during the peak of the summer vacation season — were simply wiped away by the height of Ike's storm surge. In the town of Gilchrist, there are only few buildings still standing. Ferry service to the island is out, as is the bridge on its eastern end. The road that traverses the island is washed out, too.
Where there is no debris, only level ground, Yarbrough said officials may never know if people who tried to weather the storm were washed out to sea. So far, there are no confirmed fatalites, but Yarbrough and other officials said he didn't think that would hold.
"I'm not Pollyana. I think we will find some," he said.
Yarbrough said officials would stress to those trying to stay in their damaged homes that they will be allowed to return, and were looking into setting up shelters in Galveston County so these individuals won't be too far away from their homes. But he said those who live on Bolivar "need to be ready for a marathon, not a race."
Elsewhere in hard-hit southeast Texas, some residents were being allowed back into emptied communities to dig through their demolished homes — but only briefly.
Across Galveston Bay, Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said residents can "look and leave" during daylight hours. Security was tight, and checkpoints would block anyone without a photo id saying they were a Galveston resident from coming in.
Thomas also said the estimated 15,000 people still living on Galveston Island are encouraged to leave, since the city has only limited water and sewer service, and no electricity.
"We have a blossoming health and medical concern," Thomas said. "We are not going to go into somebody's house and drag them out. But they need to consider the risks of staying here."