Video: Hurricane-stricken Houston gets a helping hand

updated 9/20/2008 1:12:04 PM ET 2008-09-20T17:12:04

One week after Hurricane Ike wiped out whole neighborhoods and nearly every basic service in Galveston, there is a plan to start letting some 45,000 evacuees back to their hobbled hometown.

Those who left heeded dire warnings to flee.

Now they've been given a new warning: Going home won't be easy.

No power, limited sewer services and spotty water utilities are among the trials that city officials say could await residents when a gradual reopening of Galveston begins next week.

"You will need to decide if you want to come back in those conditions," city manager Steve LeBlanc said Friday.

Residents will be allowed to return in phases, starting from the least damaged areas, primarily behind the seawall on the east side of the island, then out to the heavily damaged west end, he said.

There's only limited fuel and other supplies. But businesses are slowly beginning to open, electricity is coming back on and cell phone service is improving.

Residents of the harder-hit Boliviar Peninsula will also start seeing their homes next week, albeit for only a quick peek. And because the main road is impassible in many spots, residents will be loaded into dump trucks and other heavy vehicles for their tour.

Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough, the county's highest elected official, said 60 state troopers were patrolling the heavily damaged peninsula.

"We need the people's patience," Yarbrough said. "A lot of progress has been made. We're in a marathon. We're not in a 100-yard dash."

Authorities have long since finished searching for bodies on Galveston Island and the peninsula, though they cautioned more could be found. Authorities had blamed 57 deaths in the U.S. on Ike, 23 of them in Texas.

Power had been restored Friday to more than half the customers whose electricity was cut by Ike, though state officials said about 1.41 million remained in the dark.

The nation's fourth-largest city continues recovering. Houston schools that have been closed since Ike are to begin reopening Tuesday. All campuses are expected to be open by Sept. 29.

State Rep. Craig Eiland, who represents Galveston, said officials are trying to gather the thousands of cattle that have been roaming free since the storm surge receded. The water that remains is so salty it could kill animals that drink it, and the grass they would normally eat also has been tainted, he said.

NASA said Friday that flight control of the International Space Station was returning to the Johnson Space Center, which shut down a few days before Ike's strike but did not sustain significant damage.

More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast as Ike steamed across the Gulf of Mexico. Gov. Rick Perry said 20,500 people were still staying in 190 shelters Friday.

About 135,500 families had qualified for government-funded hotels, though fewer than 9,000 were checked in, said Richard Scorza, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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