Ike's Wrath: Entire Towns Disappear

In fatal aftermath of Hurricane Ike, thousands of Texas residents seek relief.

September 15, 2008, 7:54 AM

Sept. 15, 2008 — -- As frustrations mount over delays in providing basic supplies to survivors of Hurricane Ike, the first glimpses of previously inaccessible areas revealed a string of ghost towns reduced to rubble.

Search and rescuers from the Sacramento Metro Fire Department found 60 survivors on the Bolivar Peninsula, the sliver of sand that sits across Galveston Bay from the city of Galveston, according to the Associated Press. Emergency officials estimate that 400 to 500 of the 30,000 residents remained on the Peninsula during the storm; officials plan to keep searching into the night on Monday, and remain uncertain of what the death toll will be.

Law enforcement did not reach Crystal Beach, a community located on the Bolivar Peninsula, until Monday afternoon, according to reports from ABC News affiliate KTRK. The area had previously been closed to residents and media by authorities and there still appeared to be no sign of local officials in Gilchrest, the neighboring town, at that time.

The bay was littered with people's belongings, parts of homes, water heaters, even remains of cattle and other debris. Onshore, the entire Bolivar community was covered in several inches of mud and the scope of the loss is almost incomprehensible.

"It's devastating, it's heartbreaking," said Chuck Jones, a member of the search and rescue team. "We are Texans. These are our fellow Texans. We are worried about their loss, their homes, their property."

Bolivar may have been the hardest hit by Ike's 110 mph winds and estimated 16-foot storm surge. Towns all along the peninsula were virtually flattened by the treacherous winds, rain and floods from Hurricane Ike.

Over the town Gilchrist, seen from a helicopter, a single home stands alone, behind it a long stretch of waterfront homes have disappeared, pulverized by the wind and the storm surge. The bridge to this coastal area has buckled and officials found a car wrapped around a house.

Massive debris such as wood and the sides of houses clogged the peninsula's intercoastal waterway. In Port Bolivar, although some houses were still standing, many leaned on their stilts. The water appeared to have come up to a few feet below the homes' roof tops, about 16 to 18 feet, according to KTRK-TV.

In Crystal Beach, the scene was even grimmer. A camper that had been ripped to shreds lay submerged in the canal alongside a mobile home and a giant sailboat that had both been destroyed.

Despite the devastation and reports of residents who decided to ride out the storm, Gov. Rick Perry would not confirm any deaths on Bolivar.

A reporter on the scene saw several helicopters flying around the scene as well as two game wardens who were conducting their own search and rescue in air boats.

"I was in Galveston six years. This pretty much surprises me," one told KTRK. "This is pretty devastating."

Neither knew of how many injuries or fatalities had been determined in the area.

As Texas continued its largest search and rescue mission ever in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, residents affected by the storm waited for hours to get the most basic essentials, such as ice, food and water.

Twelve relief centers opened Monday in Houston, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating relief efforts with state and local officails. A reported 10,000 people flocked to one center in North Houston. The city hopes to open 11 more centers stocked with food and water supplied by FEMA. Many waited in line for hours.

Flozine Thomas, 65, is one of the thousands who waited in line for supplies Monday. Thomas, a Katrina survivor who now lives in Houston, asked to be evacuated before the storm, but was told that it was unnecessary for those residing outside the flood zone.

"My problem is with FEMA. Obviously they didn't learn anything from Katrina," she told ABC News' Sharyn Alfonsi. "You know, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand it -- seniors need to be treated differently."

Houston Mayor Bill White told KTRK-TV Monday that the city is bypassing the state and working directly with FEMA for relief distribution. According to White, the state does not have the resources to handle hurricane relief as originally planned.

According to other reports, White was not happy with FEMA's delay in getting the supplies to all the centers.

However, FEMA Administrator David Paulison told reporters Monday that the distribution of relief supplies around the state was going smoothly.

"There may have been some confusion about when pods would open," Paulison said. "We may open more tomorrow depending on what the needs of the city are. ... There should not be a problem delivering those supplies."

Paulison went on to say that every relief center was already stocked with two days worth of supplies.

Similar scenes played out across Texas as thousands of people who stayed behind, like Martin Carrel, lined up for water and ice from aid organizations after the storm passed through. Carrel's family evacuated.

"Everything in here was just floating," he told "Good Morning America." "The washer and drier [were] upside-down."

Finally, he called his family to tell them the bad news.

"It don't look good back at home. We've lost everything," he said over the phone.

On the heels of deaths, floods and power outages, authorities resumed a massive search and rescue operation Monday morning. Rescue workers kicking through the debris said they too were undernourished and unable to get water and food.

Some 3.8 million customers in five states are still without power, according to the Department of Energy, and thousands have been stranded in their homes or in shelters. Officials estimate that it could be a month before power across the city of Houston is restored.

Ike's 100 mph winds and 16 inches of rain hit the Texas coast Saturday morning. The storm's surge -- a nearly 13-foot wall of water -- was much lower then had been predicted but still more then enough to put most of Galveston underwater, obliterate thousands of homes, and rain sheets of glass shards down on the streets of Houston, the nation's fourth largest city. Most of Houston remains without power today.

Authorities estimate that 140,000 people ignored mandatory evacuation orders; despite having to deal with flooded streets and houses, officials have rescued 2,000 people and several stranded pets so far. The air space from Houston to Galveston was closed for most of the day Sunday, allowing air traffic for rescue operations only.

During house-to-house searches in Galveston, about 1,500 people were found to be safe, according to ABC News affiliate KTRK. Five dead bodies were also found. Eleven looters were arrested, and one person was airlifted out of the area with hundreds of mosquito bites.

About 11 people were found inside the city's Flagship Hotel, which was severely damaged. They will be ordered out today, KTRK said. The main natural gas line to Galveston was also severely damaged.

But Ike didn't just stop in Texas; the storm's wrath spread deep into the nation's midsection over the weekend, leaving at least 31 dead across eight states, most by flooding that followed heavy rains in Illinois, Indiana and Kansas.

Up and down the coast, beaches, seawalls and roads were washed away. Boats were tossed far inland, including a U.S. Navy ship that ended up sitting on the shores of the Bolivar Peninsula.

Insurers say their losses may go as high as $16 billion.

Repair crews from across the country are streaming in to restore electricity, which could take up to four weeks in some areas.

For that reason, many of the areas that evacuated are still not safe, according to city officials.

"We want our citizens to stay where they are," Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told The Associated Press. "Do not come back to Galveston. You cannot live here at this time."

In Orange, Texas, Mayor Brown Claybar estimated about one-third of the city of 19,000 people was flooded, from 6 inches of water to 6 feet. One of the local cemeteries was flooded, causing caskets to float out of the ground, as they did during Katrina's aftermath. The mayor said that about 375 people who stayed behind during the storm had begun to emerge, some needing food, water and medical care.

In Houston, city officials instituted an overnight curfew from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. that was in effect through Saturday morning. The city also issued a directive to boil water because of low pressure and to conserve supplies.

Evan Acuna was caught in a Texas motel, which was rocked by Ike about 3 a.m. Saturday.

"Half of the roof flew on top of me and my brother. And my sister who was sleeping next to my Dad -- she flew away," Acuna told "GMA." "My Dad grabbed her in the air and pulled her down."

"What we're trying to do is just survive here," Acuna continued.

The storm's fatal reach extended beyond Texas: Six people died in Louisiana, two in Tennessee, six in Indiana, three in Missouri, one in Arkansas and three in Ohio.

Gas prices in Texas and across the Southeast spiked this weekend as at least 14 oil refineries were shut down.

President Bush acknowledged that "there's going to be a pinch" in terms of the energy situation post-Ike.

"I'm confident there will be people that are very frustrated because their lives have been severely affected by this storm ," he said. "My message will be that we hear you and we'll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal. "

President Bush plans to visit the area Tuesday.

ABC News' Matt Hosford, Jason Ryan, Jennifer Duck and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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