Texas calls for relief
Rescuers scour coast, survey Ike’s damage
Search teams picked their way through debris and inundated roadways in Texas on Sunday, rescuing nearly 2,000 residents stranded after hurricane Ike flooded coastal regions and cut power to millions of people.
State and local officials asked the federal government to speed up relief efforts, while warning people not to return home until it was safe to do so. About two million people were evacuated before the storm made landfall.
To add to the misery, officials warned of possible gasoline shortages even as the price of fuel was rising at the pump.
Ike cut a swath of destruction after slamming into the Texas coast early on Saturday and moving inland to Houston, the heart of the U.S. oil industry, forcing many refineries to shut down as a precaution.
President George W. Bush, who will visit Texas on Tuesday, said it was too early to determine the extent of the damage to U.S. energy infrastructure. The storm also halted crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, representing a quarter of U.S. output.
Authorities in Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States, ordered a weeklong curfew because of flooding and downed power lines. Widespread outages could last for weeks.
Local officials said rescue crews have located at least three bodies on Galveston, an island city of 60,000 shredded by the storm. Overall, nearly 2,000 people have been rescued from flooded areas, state officials said.
Ice, water and food from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have so far been slow to trickle into the hardest-hit areas, local media has reported.
“We expect FEMA to deliver these supplies, and we will hold them accountable,” a visibly frustrated Houston Mayor Bill White told a televised news conference.
The Bush administration came under heavy fire for its slow and botched relief for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Thousands were left stranded for days in homes with flood waters reaching attics and in overcrowded evacuee centres.
“We have been doing what we are supposed to do — delivering supplies to the state,” the head of FEMA, David Paulison, told reporters. “We have prepositioned a lot of supplies in Texas.”
The hurricane swamped Galveston as it crashed ashore on Saturday and hammered Houston, 85 kilometres inland, shattering the windows of skyscrapers, showering streets with debris, tearing up trees and damaging buildings.
“It’s pretty obvious there was substantial and long-term damage done to Galveston Island,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said after flying over the historic coastal community.
Perry also made a plea to the federal government to accelerate aid to the region, which he called vital to America’s economy and the global energy supply.
“We are very aware of the critical economic role that this region plays,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters in Galveston, adding that restoring power to the 4.5 million people without it was the starting point to recovery.
Damage assessments have barely begun, but early estimates suggest the bill could rise to $18 billion.
Ike triggered the biggest disruption to U.S. energy supplies in at least three years and sent gasoline prices higher. But U.S. crude oil futures dropped more than $2 to below US$98.92 a barrel in a special electronic trading session on Sunday as traders shrugged off supply concerns.