By Keith B. Richburg and Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 15 -- Rescuers reached devastated corners of the Texas Gulf Coast by helicopter Monday, searching for stranded survivors and assessing the wreckage left by Hurricane Ike, while millions of people as far away as Ohio coped with the remnants of the storm.
While the body count remained relatively low, the cost in dollars and aggravation steadily grew.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) called the damage to his state "monumental" and asked an estimated 1 million evacuees to stay away for another week to allow relief workers and utility crews to do their jobs.
In low-lying Galveston, where the storm hit Saturday morning, Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas sent the same message. Officials warned of deteriorating health conditions and predicted that power would be out for a month.
And the Bolivar Peninsula, brutally scraped by Ike's winds, was now "Bolivar Island," in the words of one Coast Guard officer. The bridge that connects the spit of land with the mainland is now broken and covered with water, a helicopter flight over the area revealed.
The first rescue crews reached the peninsula Monday, bringing away 60 survivors and finding no bodies, according to the Associated Press.
Preparing to visit Texas on Tuesday, President Bush called Ike "a tough storm" and said it will "require time for people to recover."
Throughout the region, gasoline, water and tempers ran short. As Houston Mayor Bill White complained of a slow response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency's director responded that, while officials needed time on Sunday to establish a supply chain, they are now fully engaged.
"We are not only meeting, but we are exceeding -- way exceeding -- the state requests for food, water and ice," Director R. David Paulison said in Washington. "We have not been slow to deliver anything."
Oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana, which supply about half of the fuel needed in the eastern half of the United States, were not hit hard by the storm. Officials said, however, that it would be at least a week for even undamaged refineries to come back on line.
Meanwhile, a Coast Guard tour of more than 20 oil and gas platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico found only minor damage.
"These platforms are in remarkable shape. They took the same hit as those houses on land, and they're still standing," Chief Warrant Officer Anthony Pesek said aboard an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying over the gulf.
The North Carolina-based crew of the Jayhawk was looking for slicks or bubbles as evidence of ruptures in the production equipment, but found only damaged railings.
As the helicopter hovered over one facility, Pesek pointed toward the apparently undamaged rig and said, "That's a miracle right there. How that didn't topple over, I have no idea."
Far north and west of the Gulf Coast, the remnants of Ike left millions of households without power as strong winds and soaking rains wreaked havoc on roadways. Of 40 fatalities attributed to the storm by early Tuesday, only 16 were in Texas and Louisiana.
Nearly 1.5 million homes and businesses in the Midwest lost electricity over the weekend as Ike and a soaking storm from the west delivered a double whammy.
Historic rainfall caused flash flooding near Chicago. Passengers flying into the city saw parked sport-utility vehicles nearly submerged and sports fields transformed into lagoons. Flooding closed a stretch of Interstate 80/94 and National Guardsmen removed several thousand residents near Munster, Ind.
Missouri expects flooding this week along the Meramec and Missouri, including in towns already hard-hit this year by high water.
"We hadn't had a major flood event for 10 years, now we have three in one year," said Greg Hall, the administrator of Arnold, Mo. "That's the way it goes. Luckily we kept most of those sandbags up."
It was in Texas, however, that the damage from Ike was greatest -- and looked certain to linger.
Houston's curfew will remain until Saturday, authorities said. Lines for gas were several hours long in places, and some service stations ran out. With more than 35,000 people living in Texas shelters, federal authorities promised to develop an emergency housing plan with state and local officials.
Late Monday, more than 2 million customers in Texas remained without power, down from 2.8 million 24 hours earlier, including 1.6 million customers in Houston, electrical companies reported.
Restoring power to hospitals is a top priority, followed by water treatment plants and other public services. An estimated 60 hospitals in Texas remain off the electricity grid, and a federal official said a "significant number" of dialysis patients in Houston must be removed to other locations.
Richburg reported from above the Bolivar Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico. Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu in Washington and Kari Lydersen and Peter Slevin in Chicago contributed to this report.