Galveston Evacuees Get First Look at Ike's Damage

GALVESTON, Texas, September 24, 2008 (ENS) - Residents who evacuated the island city of Galveston, flattened by Hurricane Ike 10 days ago, are being permitted back into the city today but only on a limited basis as water, sewer and electricity are not fully restored . Until now, only emergency personnel and work crews have been allowed on Galveston Island.

Ike ripped into Galveston as a Category 2 storm, with 110 mile an hour winds and a 12 foot storm surge, flooding homes and damaging businesses. The storm was responsible for 61 deaths across the country, including 26 in Texas.

More than one million people evacuated the Texas coast ahead of Ike. About 45,000 Galveston residents evacuated the island, situated about 50 miles southeast of Houston.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, together with officials from the Port of Galveston and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Tuesday met with a Senate ad hoc committee to seek $2.3 billion in emergency assistance. Thomas says the city needs $1.2 billion; the hospital needs $600 million; and the port about $500 million.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who chairs the ad hoc Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, held the hearing to examine the federal government's response to Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, which hit the Gulf Coast on September 1.

"FEMA did a much better job of working with state and local governments to safely evacuate communities in advance of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. But it is clear that communities are having difficulty navigating FEMA's mess of lingering red tape as they work to recover from these storms," said Landrieu. "It is also evident that the agency has more work to do in making its supply distribution process as swift and effective as catastrophes of this magnitude require.

Today, Galveston residents will be able to see what Hurricane Ike did to their homes and businesses.

All residents and business owners in areas located behind the seawall east of 103rd Street and Cove View Lane may re-enter Galveston, assess the damage to their property, and determine if they wish to remain in the city.

Very limited water, sewer, natural gas, and electric services have been restored to areas behind the seawall. While water service has been restored to most areas behind the Seawall, the water flowing from the tap is not drinkable, it is only for bathing and flushing toilets. City officials are emphasizing that returnees must conserve water because the water supply system is still very limited.

All west end residents/businesses may re-enter Galveston, assess the damage to their property, clean, gather important belongings, and then leave the city to return to safe and more secure locations no later than 6:00 pm.

Water, sewer, natural gas, and electric services have not been restored to areas west of Seawall, therefore sanitary living conditions are not available at this time, city officials say.

The city's sanitary sewer system is not fully functioning, and repairs and disruptions are expected.

A look and leave re-entry phase began Monday for west end residents, businesses, and insurance adjusters.

As the massive cleanup process begins, city officials are asking residents to bring all storm debris to the curb, as debris removal crews cannot come on to private property to collect debris. Residents are instructed not to move sand. Sand will be collected, sifted, and returned to beach areas.

The University of Texas Medical Branch is discouraging students and non-emergency personnel from returning to the island for another week. The UTMB campus is not yet open and operational, and there is water damage and no power in the student dorms, fraternity houses and apartments, officials said.

Port of Galveston operations are currently in a recovery mode. The Port is expected to be open to vessel traffic and limited cargo vessel operations beginning this week.

Port Director Steve Cernak said, "We may have taken a direct hit but we aren't down for the count. We are picking ourselves up and moving on and will be ready to handle our first cargo vessel this week, and our first cruise vessel in early October."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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