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Texas Coast Reels From Hurricane Ike’s Destruction

September 15, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT
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Days after Hurricane Ike made heavy landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast Friday, thousands of residents remain without power and water, and many evacuees are still unable to return to their homes because of flooding. Tom Bearden reports from Texas on the aftermath.
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GWEN IFILL: Now, Hurricane Ike’s impact in Texas. NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden is there, and he has our report.

TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent: Aerial photography today showed the enormous havoc Hurricane Ike wreaked on the Texas coast. Thousands of homes were wiped away. What’s left: just the outlines of towns and lives.

Texas officials spent much of today assessing the damage two days after a 13-foot storm surge hit. Ike was a Category 2 storm. Survivors recalled the frightening night.

HURRICANE VICTIM: To realize after the fact you feel like you are just at the ends of the Earth, there’s no way out, and you’re going to die. The building shook. Fortunately, there was no windows blown out, except in the vehicles on the first level. But we just hunkered down.

HURRICANE VICTIM: There’s houses without roofs, trees inside houses. I mean, there’s boats — we’ve got boats in our lawn that’s not ours.

TOM BEARDEN: What followed was the largest search-and-rescue operation in Texas history. Two thousand people were plucked from flooded areas by helicopter and by boat. Many residents became rescuers themselves, helping friends and neighbors to safety.

RESCUER: They were sleeping in their attics. They had — you could see where they had cut holes in the top of their attics to get out, you know, to get to at least safer grounds.

TOM BEARDEN: As many as 140,000 people throughout the region ignored evacuation orders. Since the storm passed, hundreds have lined up to board buses out of Galveston in search of shelter.

HURRICANE VICTIM: We were kind of huddled all in a room together with candles and, you know, whatever little food we had and water. It was horrible.

JOURNALIST: Where are you going now?

HURRICANE VICTIM: We have some water damage. That’s why we’re getting out. We don’t have enough supplies to last us. They’re saying it’s going to be like a month before the water and everything comes on. We don’t have enough supplies to last.

Challenges to relief efforts

R. David Paulison
Administrator, FEMA
I know it's going to be tough for people in Louisiana and people in Texas over the next several weeks. Again, some people will be out of their home for not only weeks, but months.

TOM BEARDEN: FEMA Director Paulison in Washington today tried to encourage the victims.

DAVID PAULISON, Director, FEMA: I know it's going to be tough for people in Louisiana and people in Texas over the next several weeks. Again, some people will be out of their home for not only weeks, but months.

And we're -- our hearts go out to them. We know how tough that is. And we're going to do everything possible to make things as smooth as possible to put them in some very safe places and hopefully get to help them get back onto normal life.

TOM BEARDEN: About 400 people chose to ride out the storm in Orange, where six feet of water flooded about a third of the town. Some of them emerged today seeking medical attention, food and water. The Salvation Army said it was stepping up operations.

CAPT. BRETT MEREDITH, The Salvation Army: Today, we have additional feeding units coming into Galveston, as well as other affected areas around the Houston, Beaumont, Orange, Texas City, the region that's been hit the worst.

And we have five units that will be on Galveston Island. We'll be centrally locating three of those in neighborhoods, so that folks can come out and get meals today, hot meals, that will be brought in today. And then we'll have two that will be roaming throughout for those who may not get the word.

TOM BEARDEN: Not all relief efforts have gone smoothly. Among the frustrations: lack of fuel.

In Houston, there were long lines to get groceries and supplies.

HURRICANE VICTIM: It's chaos. I live on Parkwood and Beamer, and we are totally damaged over there, totally.

TOM BEARDEN: The cleanup is already well underway. Here in downtown Houston, they're hauling away truckloads of shattered glass from broken high-rise windows.

And there isn't very much traffic around the city, either, and that's probably a good thing, because many of the traffic signals have either been destroyed or don't have power.

EMERGENCY WORKER: I'll keep the 2.1, and we'll let them fly this afternoon and see what happens.

Residents must heed warnings

Judge Ed Emmett
Harris County Commissioners Court
We started this term, "hunker down," and we told everybody else, "Just hunker down, ride out the storm." And they did. One of the lessons learned from Rita was people evacuated who shouldn't have.

TOM BEARDEN: The emergency operations center in Houston is the heart of the recovery and relief efforts. Judge Ed Emmett is the Harris Country administrator. The county includes much of the area hurt by the storm.

Today, he said Houston residents heeded warnings and took appropriate measures.

JUDGE ED EMMETT, Harris County Commissioners Court: We started this term, "hunker down," and we told everybody else, "Just hunker down, ride out the storm." And they did.

One of the lessons learned from Rita was people evacuated who shouldn't have. They were not in danger of losing their life. And, frankly, you're better off if, even if your house is going to be damaged from wind, you're better off staying, seeing what the damage is, assessing your options, taking care of it, and then leaving, and that's what people have done.

TOM BEARDEN: The judge said Houstonians who did leave are anxious to return home.

JUDGE ED EMMETT: The big issue we have for the evacuees is they want to come home. They want to see what happened to their property. And I certainly understand that.

But the local officials in the various cities affected -- and, of course, I in the unincorporated part -- will tell them when it's safe to come back.

TOM BEARDEN: A top priority for county officials is restoring power to the millions who've been without it since Saturday. Local power crews, bolstered by teams from other states, are working to get lines back up.

Craig Haggerty is one of them. His own home took damage in the storm.

How bad would you expect the systems damaged to have sustained because of the storm?

CRAIG HAGGERTY, CenterPoint Power: Quite a bit. It's going to take a while to get it all back.

TOM BEARDEN: Any idea how long?

CRAIG HAGGERTY: I'm going to guess a couple weeks.

Damages caused by Hurricane Ike

President George Bush
Our folks at the pump are going to have to expect some upward pressure on price because the storm disrupted the supply of gasoline as a result of shutting down refineries and pipelines.

TOM BEARDEN: So that means that a significant number of people are going to be without power for quite a while?

CRAIG HAGGERTY: Well, we're getting most of them back on. We got 500,000 just in the past 24 hours.

TOM BEARDEN: But you've got a 1.5 million to go, right?

CRAIG HAGGERTY: Correct.

TOM BEARDEN: Ike also damaged and closed Texas refineries, causing pump prices to jump across the country this weekend. In Washington, President Bush said it could have been much worse.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The energy situation is one that's of concern. Our drivers -- our folks at the pump are going to have to expect some upward pressure on price because the storm disrupted the supply of gasoline as a result of shutting down refineries and pipelines.

The storm was -- you know, damaged a lot of infrastructure, but, truthfully, it was not as bad as some predicted that it would be on the energy sector.

TOM BEARDEN: The president will view Hurricane Ike's destruction in Houston and Galveston tomorrow.