For Ike victims, misery will last weeks
Wait goes on for food, water; Extent of damage coming into focus
HOUSTON - They waited nervously for the storm to arrive. They waited scared for the storm to pass. Now the thousands of victims of Hurricane Ike wait patiently for help - for food, water, ice, and gasoline - along a brutalized Texas coast, where they face days and even weeks of waiting before they can go home.
Thousands streamed to supply distribution centers yesterday, holding out their hands for anything that workers could offer. Many had food melting in their freezers, or had run out completely. It will be days before the power comes back on, and daily routines like grocery stores, showers, and even hot meals are tough to find.
"It is what it is. I'm breathing not bleeding," said Mark Stanfield, 58, who walked 2 miles to a FEMA distribution center yesterday for a box of Meals Ready to Eat, water, and ice that he would have to carry back home.
Almost three days after the storm steamrolled the coast, the extent of the damage was still coming into focus, with rescue teams finally reaching some of the hardest-hit and most inaccessible places, including Bolivar Peninsula, a resort on Galveston Bay where entire neighborhoods were obliterated. Homes were wiped from foundations and stilts jutted up from the sand - but their occupants were living, buoying the spirits of rescue crews.
While the number of confirmed deaths was still remarkably low -most of the 39 deaths blamed on Ike were outside Texas - the distress was considerable.
Nearly 37,000 people were in shelters, and there was no word on when those living in the most devastated towns, such as Galveston, might return. An estimated 2.2 million people in Texas alone remained without power. Many service stations had no gasoline, or no electricity to pump it. With no running water, some residents were dumping toilet waste directly into the sewers. Major highways were still under water.
Victims grew irritable as they waited for food and water. Some relief stations ran out of supplies, leaving thousands hungry and panicked.
Lines of cars stretched two hours or longer at Texas Southern University for packages of bottled water and bags of ice, the only supplies on hand until three 18-wheelers showed up around noon. Cheers broke out when it was announced there were boxes with chili, a small bag of Frito chips and a cookie.
"Why didn't they call for volunteers when they knew this was going to hit?" grumbled Irene Makris, who waited in line but was told to drive to a station in another part of Houston, closer to her neighborhood.
Snapshots of damage were emerging everywhere: In Galveston, oil coated the water and beaches with a sheen, and residents were ordered off the beach. Dozens of burial vaults popped up out of the soggy ground, many disgorging their coffins. Several came to rest against a chain-link fence choked with garbage and trinkets left behind by mourners.
Galveston officials guessed that it would be months before the island could reopen, and they warned that mosquito-borne diseases could begin to spread. Several cows that had escaped flooded pastures wandered around a shattered neighborhood. An elderly man was airlifted to a hospital, his body covered with hundreds of mosquito bites after his splintered home was swarmed.
"Galveston can no longer safely accommodate its population," said Steve LeBlanc, the city's manager. "Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for people who remain on the island."
There were also signs of progress. Houston assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan said emergency calls dropped dramatically yesterday afternoon. Mayor Bill White of Houston rescinded a mandate to boil water, citing tests that found no widespread contamination. White also said residents of the Clear Lake area, which was under a mandatory evacuation order, could safely return home.
In San Antonio and Austin, thousands streamed into 284 shelters set up by the state. As local officials sternly warned it wasn't safe to come home, many wondered how long they would be there.
More than 1,300 people who had spent several nights at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center complained that they could not get information about how to find food and clean clothes.
Michael Stevenson, 37, said that at one shelter, he had barely eaten. "They give you a little cup of water every four hours. They feed us one peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We were in there for about 18 hours before we could go outside and get some air," he said.