Wearing jeans and rubber boots, clutching Bibles and weeping between hymns, residents of the storm-shattered Texas coast comforted each other Sunday at makeshift church services that provided more than a respite from Hurricane Ike cleanup.
About 50 people came together on a basketball court outside the Oak Island Baptist Church on the tip of Trinity Bay. They sat on folding chairs or simply stood, forced outdoors by the 1-inch layer of mud left inside the one-story red brick building by floodwaters that tossed pews like matchsticks.
Behind the church, a demolished mobile home was still lodged among trees, many of them snapped by the storm's 110-mph winds that somehow left the church's trio of 20-foot white crosses still standing. Across the street, piles of debris had sprouted, signs of the labor undertaken since the storm blew through last weekend and of the work yet to come.
"I know it's hard. Looking around, it's tough," the Rev. Eddie Shauberger told the congregants. "But there is a God, and he has a plan for our lives."
Schools to reopen
Similar services were being held on Galveston Island and throughout the Houston area, where power had been restored to enough residents that schools planned to hold classes Monday for the first time since the storm.
Observances in the hardest-hit spots weren't overflowing with residents, however. Most of Galveston won't reopen until Wednesday, and it could be weeks or more before basic services are restored in all areas.
The island is far from deserted, though. At least 15,000 people ignored mandatory evacuation orders before and after the storm, and many of them were still there Sunday.
Authorities cautioned that evacuees could find drastically different conditions depending on how their property fared.
"We have people whose homes are totally and completely destroyed, all the way to the other end of the spectrum, to where your home is perfectly fine," city manager Steve LeBlanc said.
Fuel and other essentials remained scarce. Some businesses were beginning to reopen, cell service was improving and electricity was coming back on.
But the strides are small, and island leaders emphasized that Galveston remained dangerous. Police will indefinitely enforce a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew once the island reopens, and parents were warned their children could be exposed to infections from storm debris and other hazards.
Spraying for mosquitoes
Planes continued spraying the island to control mosquitoes. Officials urged those returning to wear masks to protect from mold and to properly dispose of spoiled food to stave off vermin.
Cadaver dogs continued sniffing through rubble and debris on Bolivar Peninsula, which suffered even heavier damage than Galveston. Residents there will also start seeing their homes this week, albeit for only a quick peek. Because the main road is impassible in many spots, residents will be loaded into dump trucks and other heavy vehicles for their tour.
Authorities had blamed the storm for 26 deaths in Texas and 61 total in the U.S., including a utility contractor from Florida who was electrocuted Friday while trying to restore power in Louisville, Ky.
Power had been restored to most of the customers in Texas whose electricity was cut by Ike, though the state said about 900,000 remained in the dark Sunday.
More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast as Ike steamed across the Gulf of Mexico.