Sept. 16, 2008— -- The line of cars stretched for miles along I-45 South today, filled with evacuees who had been waiting since Saturday to return to their homes in Galveston, Texas, to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Ike.
Galveston, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm's 100 mph winds, is now filled with obliterated homes.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas announced today that residents could return to see what was left of their homes and businesses and "gather important belongings" as part of a "look and leave" re-entry plan for 12 hours a day.
"I would make every effort to get them back to Galveston as soon as possible," the mayor said, referring to her pledge to return the city residents to the island. "That being said, we are going to have a 'look and leave' policy beginning now."
But the mayor's promises proved difficult to deliver. With curfew rules still in effect from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night, to discourage people from staying on the island, residents were told that they would be able to return, but must promptly leave, yet again.
"When it hits 6 p.m., you need to be gone," Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc warned residents. "We have a $2,000 fine that we will enforce."
The announcement, coming just one day after the mayor said the city would likely be closed for another week, came as a surprise to many residents and created a logistical nightmare: Galveston evacuees were essentially given five hours to enter, survey the damage and get out again this afternoon. For some evacuees, who fled as far as Austin or San Antonio, the trip was almost infeasible.
Thousands of anxious Galvestonians sat in a bottleneck along the highway leading into the city -- many infuriated that, instead of picking up the pieces of their homes and properties, they were waiting on the highway in traffic and checkpoints staffed by Texas law enforcement officials and construction crews.
"We had no way to predict traffic flow," one police officer attending the checkpoints told a reporter from ABC News affiliate KTRK-TV.