Ike victims seek aid
Officials ask for same relief given to New Orleans
Texas urged thousands of people to leave Galveston Monday as relief supplies failed to meet the needs of hungry and exhausted residents of the island city ravaged by hurricane Ike and millions struggled to cope without power in the U.S. energy hub of Houston.
About 2,000 people have been plucked from flooded areas by helicopters and boats in the largest rescue effort in the state’s history as searchers scoured battered communities along the coast and Galveston Bay.
Galveston, a city of 60,000, was decimated when the hurricane made landfall there Saturday morning and 15,000-20,000 people remained in quickly degrading conditions.
More than four million people, several oil refineries and many businesses and gas stations around Houston remained without power but government agencies will distribute ice, water and packaged meals from tractortrailers.
The relief roll-out appeared to defuse tensions that had flared between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local officials after Houston Mayor Bill White vowed to hold FEMA accountable for delivering on its commitments.
Officials from Texas — which sheltered some 200,000 evacuees when hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 — pressed for equal treatment from federal aid agencies.
“I have asked the president and the administration to just treat us as fairly as they treated Louisiana back during Katrina,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “Texans will take care of the rest.”
Galveston’s historic downtown — where celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes once held court — lay under a layer of foul-smelling mud laced with sewage.
“There’s nothing to come here for,” Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told residents still on the island. “Please leave.”
She also called in a cruise ship to house recovery teams.
Shocked and bewildered residents staggered through the streets as food and water grew scarce.
“FEMA ain’t been by, nobody,” said disabled retiree Vivian Matthews, who was stranded at her flooded apartment for two days. “They don’t give a damn if we live or die.”
Perry said that recovery will be “a long process,” and pleaded for Texans to be patient.
Power outages were the main obstacle to recovery and authorities have warned that some people could be without it for days.
Electricity is the lifeblood of Gulf coast refineries that process about a quarter of the nation’s fuel.
Power provider CenterPoint Energy reported it had restored power to 500,000 customers but about 1.6 million remained in the dark, including big Houston-based corporations.
Authorities urged residents to boil water as protection against contamination and disease.
Four deaths were reported by officials in Galveston — scene of the worst U.S. weather disaster when a 1900 hurricane killed more than 8,000 people.
One person was also killed in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, the mayor said.
As a weakening Ike moved north into the nation’s midsection, its heavy rain and winds are believed to have claimed more lives, though those deaths were not confirmed.
Houston, the fourth biggest U.S. city and home to a booming economy thanks to energy demand, was still under a dusk-to-dawn curfew due to lack of power.
Across Houston, where the car is king, hundreds of drivers waited in long gas station lines, and residents lined up thousands deep at relief centres to get ice, water and food.
The city’s two main airports resumed partial operations.
But with debris still littering its streets and windows blown out of office buildings, it could be weeks before a city of more than two million people returns to business as usual.
The crude oil market shrugged off supply concerns and dropped about $7 to a seven-month low of $94.13 a barrel.
Ike caused minimal damage to oil refineries along the Gulf coast and companies are preparing to restart operations at the 14 oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana that remained shut due to Ike, the Energy Department said.
President Bush will view stormdamaged areas in Texas Tuesday.
He still is trying to rebuild his image as a disaster manager after he was widely criticized for a botched relief effort in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina in 2005.