-- Along the Gulf Coast near the Texas-Louisiana border Monday, snapped utility poles littered the landscape and more than half a million customers were without power. Floodwaters began to recede, but many homes and buildings remained submerged in the Louisiana bayou.
Officials continued rescue operations for residents cut off by Hurricane Rita's flooding, and military helicopters searched for as many as 30,000 stranded cattle.
Meanwhile, anger grew and tragedy arrived as evacuated citizens clamored to be allowed back to their homes. Five people -- including three children -- died after inhaling carbon monoxide exhaust from a generator they ran in their apartment.
In several Texas communities, including the refinery town of Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur, officials trying to deter an influx of returnees blockaded roads into the towns and pleaded with motorists not to come. But their roadblocks were besieged by irate residents who said they wanted to protect their property and help clean up.
Others who had resisted the massive evacuation before Rita struck Saturday emerged from their boarded-up homes, seeking food and water and also criticizing what they said was a slow effort to return basic services to their communities.
"We thought we had evacuated everybody. Now people are starting to come out," said Michael Ferris, a federal official working at the base set up outside Beaumont to coordinate relief efforts.
The deaths came among a group of eight people who managed to return to their apartment at 2:30 a.m. Monday, according to Officer Crystal Holmes of the Beaumont police. They apparently got into the two-story apartment and started a small generator with no vent to the outside, despite warnings throughout the day on local radio stations for people not to run generators indoors.
"They probably didn't want to put the generator outside for fear it would be stolen," said Holmes, a police spokeswoman, who was on the scene. At 10:40 a.m., a relative knocked repeatedly on the door. A 12-year-old girl stumbled out, vomiting, Holmes said.
"The exhaust was so strong and so thick in the apartment, it overcame emergency workers who were trying to drag out the bodies," she said.
The dead included a boy, 9; two girls, 7 and 12; their aunt, 25; and a man, 47, who was a friend of the family, police said. The man's daughter, who answered the door, survived. The 29-year-old mother of the dead children and an 8-year-old son were airlifted to Houston in critical condition, Holmes said.
Officials pointed to the tragedy as evidence that their pleas for people not to return should be heeded.
"This is another example of why people should please not come back to the city. We don't have the services for them," Holmes said.
But evacuees who were tired, exhausted, short of money and short of gas made their way home anyway, saying they would rather live in their houses with no power than stay in shelters or sleep another night in a car.
"We came all the way from Gilmer, Texas, and got within 15 minutes of our home. But they stopped us," said Andre LaCroix, 45. He was sitting with his wife, grandson and elderly parents in a closed gas station outside Port Arthur. They had spent the night there, sleeping in the sweltering Texas heat, reluctant to turn around.
"They say there's no services, but my father has his own generator and his own well," LaCroix said. "They still won't let us go." He and his wife had lost their home in New Orleans when it was struck by Hurricane Katrina, and they had just closed on a new house near Port Arthur when Rita struck.
"In Louisiana, after Katrina, they let people come back to their homes, and everybody cleaned up their streets and got things running," he said. "Not in Texas."
"They should let the people in," said Belle Begnaud, 64, who was waiting at a nearby church for some water. "We could help clean up. We could take care of our own place. I have some water damage in my house, but if I close it up and wait for another few weeks, it will all be destroyed by mold. I'll have to throw everything out."
The complaints have put local officials on the defensive after orchestrating an exodus that prevented much loss of life from Rita, despite huge traffic jams, gas shortages and a shortage of shelters.
County and state officials have said that Rita left so many downed trees and fallen power lines that it will take weeks to clear roads and rebuild electrical grids. Without power, most local water and sewerage systems are not working. Most hospitals have closed, and police communications are spotty. And an influx of residents will clog the roads and hamper the cleanup, the officials say.
"It's not safe to come in," said Janice Marshall, a Port Arthur police officer. "I'd like to get to my home, too. But we can't."
Rita arrived early Saturday where the Texas-Louisiana line meets the Gulf of Mexico. The worst of the damage was in the swampy bayou country in southwestern Louisiana.
Many residents of towns across the region stayed in their homes. A Texas couple who did were killed by a tree that fell on their house, the Associated Press reported. Many people recounted a harrowing night with the storm; most said they regretted their decision. But having survived, they said that local officials and relief agencies have been slow to offer help.
Ferris, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Beaumont, said the National Guard and other agencies are starting to open more centers to provide food and water. He acknowledged that operations planners were surprised at the number of people who remained at their homes.
"It's a fiasco," said Charles Edwards, 72, who made what he calls "a debatable decision not to get involved with all that fiasco on the roads" during the evacuation. He remained at his assisted-living apartment in Port Arthur but now had no food and water.
"They want us to leave. But there's nothing open for 100 miles from here. And how am I going to finance it?" he asked.
Edwards and others found their way to Triumph Church, a nondenominational church outside Port Arthur that was dispensing water, food, diapers and bags of ice, donated by a collection of private agencies and the Red Cross.
"For the first time in my life, I have people from this community saying, 'We are hungry. We need food and water,' " said Randy Clark, the pastor. The church was damaged and its big sign was toppled by the storm. But Clark decided to ignore that and began handing out donated food, water and ice to people who made it to the church parking lot.
He insisted local authorities were doing the best they could. But his volunteers resorted to delivering supplies to those who were stuck at roadblocks outside Port Arthur.
Some found the wait for help too daunting and agreed with officials that their communities are unlivable.
"I can't spend another night in that apartment," said Kim Albert, 45, clearly exhausted, as she sat on the parking lot of the church. She had stayed during the storm. But the record-breaking heat and humidity that followed Rita had sapped her strength, she said, and the apartment's damp smell was suffocating.
She was taken by Port Arthur police and put on a bus to Beaumont, where air-conditioned buses were waiting. Those who gave up the effort to stay were being driven to San Antonio, where they would be sheltered at an old Air Force base.
Ferris said at least 650 people had been taken there from Beaumont on Sunday and Monday.
"I don't care where we go," said Laura Schick, 25, waiting with her husband and two young daughters at the Beaumont staging area for a bus. "My 2-year-old has a fever. I just want to get to some place that is not hot, and where my daughter won't be throwing up."