Along Texas Coast, 'Monumental' Damage

Teams are conducting the biggest search and rescue operation in Texas history, as thousands of people faced long stays in crowded shelters because their homes were damaged or destroyed. Video by AP
By Keith B. Richburg, Joel Achenbach and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 15, 2008

HOUSTON, Sept. 14 -- The devastated Texas Gulf Coast began Sunday to assess the scope of the impact of Hurricane Ike, finding that the massive storm washed away homes and knocked out power to millions, but did not cause the catastrophic loss of life that federal and state authorities had feared.

The damage from the 600-mile-wide hurricane was extensive, with flooding and debris spread from Freeport to Port Arthur. Nearly 2,000 people were rescued from flooded homes and elsewhere in the Galveston area, and more than 2 million remained without power statewide.

Yet the number of deaths from the hurricane's driving rains and 100 mph winds was reported to be 11 -- seven people in Texas and four in Louisiana -- even though thousands ignored orders to evacuate. By late Sunday, there were reports of 10 additional deaths in other states as the storm moved north. Federal officials said there were no reports of major damage to the region's critical oil, gas and petrochemical installations.

"Hurricane Ike threw us a hard punch, but it did not dent our spirit," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said as he urged the more than 1 million people who did evacuate to stay away for another week. While Perry said the damage was "monumental," he stressed that the state would recover.

Although most of Houston's energy businesses announced plans to remain closed Monday, the city's two commercial airports planned to reopen Monday to limited passenger service.

In Washington, President Bush said he will visit Texas on Tuesday to assess recovery efforts and lend support. "This is a tough storm, and it's one that's going to require time for people to recover," the president said after being briefed on the storm.

Bush said his top priorities are restoring electricity, clearing debris and getting the Houston sewage plant running again, and he vowed to ensure that gas stations are not gouging customers. About 2.2 million residences and businesses remained without power Sunday, along with 161,000 customers in Louisiana and about 154,000 in Arkansas.

A nighttime curfew was imposed in Houston through Saturday by officials concerned about looting. Thirty people had been arrested for looting by Sunday evening, local media reported.

Authorities had restored electricity to about 600,000 customers, but frustration was building among some residents and local officials about what they considered a slow governmental response. Callers to Houston radio stations were frantically asking where to find ice, a desperately needed commodity in a sweltering city without electricity for air conditioning.

The Category 2 hurricane roared ashore early Saturday and plowed across eastern Texas before being downgraded 11 hours later to a tropical storm. While authorities feared that Ike could inundate 100,000 homes and cause widespread fatalities, the storm veered north at the last minute and spared the Houston-Galveston area from worse destruction. It also did not strengthen.

Still, scenes of devastation belied the number of fatalities, though authorities were still conducting house-to-house searches late Sunday. Along Bolivar Peninsula, on the east side of Galveston Bay, acres of what had once been beachfront houses were washed away, with only the stilts that had supported them remaining.

A Washington Post photographer flying with the U.S. Coast Guard saw vehicles halfway submerged in sand and only three people on a long stretch of beach, including a woman sitting with her dog next to one of the few houses that remained.

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