Race to save stranded survivors in Texas

9/14/2008 GALVESTON, Texas Heavy morning rains hampered rescue efforts in the hardest-hit areas of the Texas and Louisiana coasts, while those who had evacuated and tried to return to the Houston area found interstates and streets blocked by flooding and debris.

Authorities hoped to spare thousands of Texans - 140,000 by some estimates who ignored orders to flee ahead of the storm - from another night amid the destruction. Eight deaths had been blamed on the storm, and authorities worried the toll could rise.

"I'm worried about my mother's medical condition. We haven't been able to get to anyone at the clinic on the phone," said Zee Ellis, whose mother, 80-year-old Ruth Willis, fled Houston with her family ahead of the storm.

As they waited out a downpour along Interstate 10 on Sunday morning, Zee Ellis said her mother's cancer treatments had been interrupted as they had moved from place to place, looking for shelter and electricity.

President Bush planned to travel to Texas on Tuesday to express sympathy and lend support to the storm's victims. He asked people who evacuated before the hurricane to listen to local authorities before trying to return home.

In Houston, a weeklong curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. was imposed because most of the city was still without power. Highways, darkened streetlights and pooled water made it difficult to drive.

"In the interest of safety, we're asking people to not be out in the streets in their vehicles or on foot," Chief Harold Hurtt said.

In Hackberry, La., about 15 miles from the coast, workers moved a large shrimp boat out of the highway with a bulldozer, but the team had to stop because of strong currents in the floodwaters and difficulty in seeing the roadway.

"You can't see the sides of the road, and if you left the road, you'd just be swept away," National Guard spokeswoman Sgt. Rebekah Malone said. About 20 people had been evacuated by boat in Hackberry.

Residents of the tiny community of Seabrook, Texas, near Johnson Space Center, were met by a roadblock as they tried to return home, and police officers standing in the rain turned them away. At times the line was six to 12 cars deep.

"It's gonna be a while," an officer shouted to one man as he made a U-turn. "Just listen to the news."

"Seabrook is a disaster area: no sewer, no infrastructure. It really isn't safe," said officer Charlie Skinner. "It's making residents pretty upset. I understand, but ... There's an order signed by the mayor. We can't let anybody in."

Overnight, a team of paramedics, rescue dogs and structural engineers fanned out under a nearly full moon on a finger of land in Galveston Bay. To the northeast, Coast Guard crews also worked into early Sunday morning, pulling a half-dozen people out of Bridge City before rescue missions were suspended for the night.

Five-year-old Jack King escaped serious injury when a rush of storm-surge water washed out the first floor of his family's Galveston home just two blocks from the bay.

"I falled in the attic," the boy told paramedic Stanley Hempstead of his 10-foot tumble through the attic and onto the garage floor.

Jack and his family rode out the storm with blankets and other supplies. As the Texas Task Force 1 Search and Rescue crew arrived, Jack gazed at a TV aglow with "The Simpsons," a Band-Aid covering a gash on his head.

"We just didn't think it was going to come up like this," said the boy's father, Lee King. "I'm from New Orleans, I know better. I just didn't think it was going to happen."

On one side of the Galveston peninsula, two barges had broken loose and smashed into homes. Everything from red vinyl barstools to clay roof tiles littered the landscape.

The second floor of some homes sat where the first had been before Ike's surge washed it out, and only framed remained below the roofs of others, opening a clear view from front yard to back.

Eight deaths were blamed on the storm - five in Texas, two in Louisiana and one in Arkansas. Authorities said Sunday three people were found dead in Galveston, including one person found in a submerged vehicle near the airport. Another person died in Arkansas when a tree fell on his mobile home as the remnants swept through.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office said 940 people had been saved by nightfall Saturday, but that thousands had made distress calls the night before. Another 600 were rescued from flooding in Louisiana.

In Orange, Texas, Mayor Brown Claybar estimated about a third of the city of 19,000 people was flooded, from 6 inches of water to 6 feet. He said about 375 people who stayed behind during the storm had begun to emerge, some needing food, water and medical care.

"These people got out with the wet shirts on their back," said Claybar. He said he did not know how many were still stranded. He didn't know exactly how long it would take to pump water out of the city.

Ike was the first major storm to directly hit a major U.S. metro area since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Ike weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday morning, but was still packing winds up to 35 mph as it dumped rain over Arkansas and traveled across Missouri. Tornado warning sirens sounded Saturday in parts of Arkansas, and the storm downed trees and knocked out power to thousands there.

More than 3 million were without power in Texas at the height of the storm, and it could be weeks before it is fully restored.

Utilities made some progress by late Saturday, and lights returned to parts of Houston. In Louisiana, battered by both Ike and Labor Day's Hurricane Gustav, 180,000 homes and businesses were in the dark.

Those who did leave were glad they heeded orders, despite the inconvenience. Retired nurse Ida Mayfield said that because Gustav hit Louisiana and not Beaumont two weeks ago, many decided not to evacuate ahead of Ike. She was warm and dry at a church-turned-shelter in Tyler, along with thousands of her neighbors.

"Two o'clock this morning made a believer out of all of them," said the 52-year-old Mayfield, adding that she spoke to a friend Saturday who was on a roof waiting for help after calling 911. "They're scared now."

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