300 National Guardsmen out of food and water in Houston

HOUSTON – Hundreds of first responders at two staging areas in Texas for Hurricane Ike have run out of food and water.

Congressman John Culberson said Sunday that 300 National Guardsmen, state troopers and other emergency workers are going hungry at a high-school football stadium — and at another staging area on Houston’s west side.

Culberson blamed FEMA for the gaffe and says he tried to contact Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who is touring flood-stricken areas of Texas.

Culberson says several buses full of gas are sitting idle at the stadium while crews await instructions. He called on area residents to take food and water to the crews at the stadium — despite official warnings for people to stay off Houston roads.


Galveston officials begin to restrict media access

GALVESTON — Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas on Monday ordered all city employees not to talk to news reporters. She did not say when that order would be lifted.

Thomas and City Manager Steve LeBlanc will be the only officials allowed to talk to reporters.

City spokeswoman Mary Jo Naschke vehemently denied the city was trying to clamp down on news coverage.

She said emergency personnel and city employees were too busy to talk to reporters. Naschke also said the city had been accommodating news reporters by allowing them access to the island when others weren’t allowed, giving them escorted rides to damaged areas and allowing them to move about outside during a curfew.

But at a noon press conference on Monday, Thomas and LeBlanc talked for less than 30 minutes and refused to answer any more than five questions. Thomas said she would try to hold another press conference Tuesday.

Daily News reporters who tried to speak to city employees at rescue sites were denied information and told no one was authorized to talk to them except for the mayor and city manager.

“It’s the worst thing the city could do. Those who will suffer most are evacuees,” Publisher Dolph Tillotson said in statement via text message from the island. “The media will have to turn to other sources that might be less reliable. I can’t imagine a dumber move under these extreme circumstances.”

Before the press conference started Monday, LeBlanc asked reporters whether he could go off the record. Some television crews agreed and turned their cameras off. LeBlanc then asked news crews to urge their bosses and managers to show more coverage of the island on television because evacuees didn’t care about what was happening in Houston.

All reporters who were staying at the city’s emergency operations center, stationed at the San Luis Hotel, were asked to leave Monday. San Luis hotel owner Tilman Fertitta was housing reporters at the nearby Hilton Hotel, which he also owns.

Reporters would be allowed on the island, but only if they had proper identification, Thomas said. She didn’t clarify what that meant.

Reporters were also forbidden from visiting areas on the far West End of FM 3005, Thomas said. She did not explain why.


Strains mounting in shelters for Ike evacuees

SAN ANTONIO (AP) – As search-and-rescue continued along a storm-ravaged coastline, thousands of evacuees converged Monday on emergency shelters all across Texas with all the belongings they could carry and an unanswerable question: What now?

More than 37,000 people left homeless by Hurricane Ike have arrived at makeshift shelters throughout the state, and officials said even more were on the way. The strain was beginning to show.

Some shelters were overcrowded, food and water scarce, and there were isolated reports of fights and arrests. State officials worried that evacuees would return home too early to hard-hit areas of Southeast Texas, where first responders and emergency workers are already overwhelmed and overworked.

“Stay where you are,” Gov. Rick Perry urged evacuees during a news conference in Orange.

“The absolute worst thing that could happen is for people who are in areas that have electricity, that have fuel, that have water, to come back into these areas and put additional strain on the structure that we have in place,” he said.

But even as some evacuees appeared to be ignoring those pleas, others were still coming by bus from Galveston, Houston and other battered cities to nearly 300 emergency shelters set up across the state.

Pat Schmidt, 57, and her 16-year-old daughter, Marilea, were hanging out by the curb outside of the mammoth warehouse-shelter at Port San Antonio. On the ground beside them were just four bags: A small suitcase, two carry-ons and a Pier 1 shopping bag that held dirty shoes and half-empty water bottles.

They arrived on one of the many buses from Galveston at 6 a.m. Monday. The 245-mile trip from the island took more than 11 hours, delayed when other buses in their caravan broken down along the way.

“We went in and they told us they serve breakfast at 8 a.m., better get in line early,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt and her daughter plan to stay with her sister-in-law in Austin, doing what they can to keep their minds off of the destruction back home. Their immediate plans meant meeting basic needs: A shower—they haven’t had one since Wednesday—sleep, then shopping for some extra clothes. Beyond that, Schmidt couldn’t say.

“They told us there’d be no power, no electricity for at least two weeks. Whenever they say we can come back, my sister-in-law is going to drive us back. But this is where we are today,” she said.

“I’ll cook to earn my board. We’ll just hang out. I don’t want to watch anymore pictures of Galveston,” said Schmidt, nodding toward the entrance to the shelter. “Everyone in there was watching it, but I just can’t. Not anymore. It’s kind of like a dream that you’re in and you know you’re going to wake up. But instead of saying, `Oh, it was just a dream.’ It wasn’t.”

In Austin, more than half of the 6,200 evacuees who sought shelter from Ike have since left, but authorities couldn’t say for sure where they went. Some returned to coastal areas that were spared the brunt of Ike’s destruction. Others were staying with family and friends, but it was impossible to say how many, said Sara Hartley, emergency operations spokeswoman for the city.

Some who arrived at shelters last week ahead of the storm said the strain had worsened with the arrival of the latest wave of evacuees, many of whom chose to ride out Ike and disregarded earlier evacuation efforts.

Shauna Leigh, 20, got to the San Antonio shelter on Friday after fleeing Galveston with her mother, Rena, and 2-month-old baby, Thomas. “There wasn’t hardly anyone in there. It was quiet, but as time progressed, more people came,” she said, as her mother chimed in: “Longer breakfast line. Longer lunch line. Longer dinner line.”

Her father, Ronald, rejoined the family Monday morning, after making the drive from East Texas. They’d like to stay with relatives, but many of them live in Houston or elsewhere along the coast and are still without power.

“Right now we’re just waiting it out, seeing what happens. I don’t think I can stay here that long. There’s just so many people and there’s sick people, too, and I have my son,” she said. “I just don’t want to make this a permanent home.”

At one overcrowded East Texas shelter, many of the 1,600 evacuees were moved on Sunday to other locations near Fort Worth after tempers flared and fights broke out among evacuees housed in an abandoned Wal-Mart.

The building, pressed into service because several shelters used during Hurricane Gustav weren’t available, has minimal bathroom facilities, requiring portable toilets, showers and wash basins to be placed in the parking lot.

Police said seven people were arrested after incidents Saturday and Sunday.

“You get 1,600 people on cots in an old Wal-Mart, things like that are bound to happen,” said Tyler police chief Gary Swindle.

Nicholas Harris, 23, of Beaumont, among the 800 evacuees relocated Sunday night, was happy to be out of Tyler.

“We was all on top of each other, and everybody had to fend for themselves,” said Harris, who was moved to a shelter at the First Baptist Church in Watauga. “It’s been real hard, but God’s going to take care of us.”


Texas rushes Ike relief as health crisis looms

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) – Texas officials warned of a health crisis on Monday and urged thousands of people to leave Galveston, where relief supplies were scarce for hungry, exhausted residents of the island city ravaged by Hurricane Ike.

In Houston, millions struggled to cope without power in the U.S. energy hub.

About 2,000 people have been plucked from flooded areas by helicopters and boats in the largest rescue effort in the state’s history as searchers scoured battered communities along the coast and Galveston Bay.

Galveston, a city of 60,000, was decimated when the hurricane made landfall there on Saturday morning and 15,000-20,000 people remained in quickly degrading conditions.

“There’s nothing to come here for,” Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told residents still on the island. “Please leave.”

She called in a cruise ship to house recovery teams, and the city was bringing in a refrigerated mobile morgue.

“We cannot accommodate people who are getting sick,” said Galveston City Manager Steven LeBlanc. “You have the potential for a health crisis.”

More than 4 million people, several oil refineries and many businesses and gas stations around Houston remained without power. Government agencies will distribute ice, water and packaged meals from tractor-trailers.


Galveston, part of Houston evacuated ahead of Ike

Special-needs residents in the city of Houston and Harris County will begin evacuating Thursday morning as Hurricane Ike headed for the Texas coast, officials said.

A mandatory evacuation for residents in surrounding low-lying areas of Houston will begin Thursday afternoon, officials said.

“We strongly urge you to evacuate before tomorrow,” said Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County’s chief executive officer, at a news conference Thursday with Houston Mayor Bill White.

Government offices and schools will be closed Friday in Houston in anticipation of the hurricane. Officials are still deciding whether to put a contraflow system in place, or reverse highway lanes to make them one way to help with evacuations, Emmett said.

Seven other counties have begun partial or full evacuations.

Forecasters said the storm could slam into the Texas coast — south of Galveston — as a powerful Category 3 storm late Friday or early Saturday. iReport.com: Ike’s storm surges slam Pensacola, Florida

Because of the size of the storm, forecasters warned weather in areas along the Texas coast could be dangerous even before Ike hits. Watch how the hurricane has grown in size »

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas issued a mandatory evacuation order for the entire Galveston Island. No shelters will be open, according to the city’s Web site.

At 11 a.m. ET Thursday, Ike — now a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 1 to 5 in strength — was heading toward the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said.

Ike was moving west-northwest near 10 mph; that motion should continue over the central and western Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and Friday, the hurricane center said. Track the storm »

At 11 a.m., Ike had top sustained winds near 100 mph, and was about 580 miles east of Corpus Christi, Texas, and 470 miles east-southeast of Galveston.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 115 miles from the center, the hurricane center said, and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 275 miles. iReport.com: ‘I’ve never seen the water up that high’

Aransas County has ordered a mandatory evacuation of all nonessential government employees.

In Rockport, special-needs residents gathered at the Live Oak Elementary School for the evacuation.

“All my family is up north,” James Beaird, who has Type 2 diabetes, told CNN affiliate KIII-TV in Corpus Christi. “I’m glad they pick up an old cripple dude, like me, and get me somewhere.”

Farther up the Gulf Coast and closer to where the National Hurricane Center predicts a direct hit, Brazoria County ordered a mandatory evacuation to begin at 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. ET) Thursday. Some other Texas localities have ordered mandatory evacuations, while others have left the decision to depart up to residents.

“One of the things that the public has to understand if they decide to stay, there will be a period of time during this storm when they will absolutely be on their own,” Brazoria County Sheriff Charles Wagner said.

“There will be no medical services; there will be no fire department; there will be no law enforcement, groceries, gasoline, drugs, electricity.”

Some Brazoria County residents said they didn’t want to leave but realized it was in their best interest to do so.

“You don’t have a choice when you have kids,” Deborah Davis of Freeport told CNN affiliate KPRC-TV in Houston.

Diana Rangel, who also lives in Freeport, filled up her car with gas Wednesday at a convenience store overrun with other vehicles waiting in line, CNN affiliate KHOU-TV in Houston reported.

“We don’t want to get stuck out here [in floodwaters],” Rangel told KHOU.

In Matagorda County, southwest of Galveston, officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for all areas except the cities of Bay City and Van Vleck. The evacuation must be completed by at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) Thursday.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the northwestern Gulf Coast, from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Baffin Bay, Texas. Hurricane conditions could reach the coast within the warning area by late Friday. A hurricane watch is in effect from south of Baffin Bay to Port Mansfield, Texas.

Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning from south of Baffin Bay to Port Mansfield. A tropical storm warning also is in effect from east of Morgan City to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry put 7,500 National Guard members on standby and issued a disaster declaration for 88 counties.

President Bush declared an emergency, making federal funds available for the state to prepare for the storm.

Corpus Christi officials also began the evacuation process for residents with special needs, supplying buses to transport them out of town.

Voluntary evacuations were issued in San Patricio and Victoria counties and parts of Jackson County, according to the governor’s office.

More than 1,300 inmates from the Texas Correctional Institutions Division’s Stevenson Unit in Cuero were being evacuated to facilities in Beeville and Kenedy, Perry’s office said, and 597 were transferred from the substance abuse Glossbrenner Unit in San Diego, in south Texas, to Dilley.

Naval air stations in Texas also began to prepare for Hurricane Ike’s expected arrival by moving aircrafts.

Evacuations appeared to have saved lives in Cuba when Ike slammed into the island. Four deaths were reported from the storm, according to the Cuban government. The Cuban Civil Defense brought buses or trucks to take people to shelters.

The United States, which provided $100,000 in emergency aid to communist-run Cuba through private aid agencies after Hurricane Gustav hit the island August 30, said that it was considering additional emergency aid for Cuba because of Ike.

The storm pounded Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos chain, putting a strain on the British territory’s tourism industry.
Flooding and rains from Ike’s outer bands have been blamed for 70 deaths in Haiti.