Officials: Ike Death Toll Rises to at Least 50

As death toll rises, many Ike evacuees are still not allowed home.

ByABC News
September 17, 2008, 7:58 AM

Sept. 17, 2008 — -- The death toll for Hurricane Ike has risen to at least 50 people across 11 states, authorities said Wednesday, as evacuees from Galveston wondered when they might return to their storm-ravaged island.

The Galveston County Medical Examiner told the Associated Press that a first death had been confirmed in Brazoria County, Texas.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear when Ike evacuees who were told they could return to survey what was left of their Galveston, Texas, homes would be allowed to do so.

As traffic snarled on I-45 South Tuesday, with residents attempting to take advantage of the "look and leave" policy before a dusk curfew, waiting motorists became increasingly frustrated when they were told they had to turn around and that the island would be closed.

"I have been in line for two hours," one driver told a police officer who was trying to turn him around before he reached the city. "I know you don't care."

The 110 mph winds, heavy rain and massive flooding from Hurricane Ike left Galveston in ruins. Residents were so desperate to get back and salvage anything they could that they were willing to wait in line for hours Tuesday for the chance to spend just a few precious minutes at home. For some evacuees, who fled as far away as Austin and San Antonio, the trip seemed almost impossible.

Only those who could prove they were homeowners were allowed over the bridge and many became furious when they were suddenly told to leave, some before they could even make it to their homes.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas initially said 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," Thomas said, referring to her plan to allow residents to return the island. "That being said, we are going to have a 'look and leave' policy beginning now."

Officials even planned to enforce the policy with fines.

"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."

But after massive traffic jams getting back into the city, the mayor later announced that the program was suspended indefinitely.