Galveston looking to provide shelters

September 25, 2008 2:52:31 PM PDT
Residents of Galveston who found their homes uninhabitable when they returned this week after fleeing from Hurricane Ike might soon have more shelters to stay in, including tents set up at an old elementary school, city officials said Thursday. ROAD TO RECOVERY: How you can help | School closings | Person locator | Important phone numbers | Assistance from FEMA | Filing a claim | Latest power numbers

One shelter was opened at a community center Wednesday, the day residents were allowed to return to the island and inspect their homes, but it only had room for about 100 people and quickly filled up.

Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said the city is working with the American Red Cross to provide temporary shelter for displaced residents in tents on the grounds of an elementary school no longer in use.

"We've been working furiously to get some shelters," LeBlanc said. "We are doing the best that we can. We're telling those folks to be patient."

The city and the school district are also working on setting up shelters at other schools when they are cleaned up. LeBlanc said officials had been working to open shelters off the island, in nearby Texas City, but they had not been able to find any locations to do so.

About 45,000 residents fled before the Sept. 13 storm. Most of them returned to the island Wednesday and LeBlanc estimated there are now about 40,000 to 50,000 people back in Galveston, located about 50 miles southeast of Houston. The city's total population is about 57,000.

Ike battered Galveston with 110 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge and has been blamed for at least 62 deaths, including 27 in Texas. More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast.

While Galveston officials worked to open more shelters, LeBlanc advised residents to look for hotel rooms or apartments on the island.

"We are working diligently to provide a shelter. It's been difficult," he said.

In addition to a shortage of shelters, Galveston has limited drinking water, few working sewers, limited electricity and minimal medical facilities. Schools also remain closed.

But Dyann Polzin, with the Galveston school district, announced Thursday that officials planned to reopen seven of the district's 12 schools by Oct. 6.

Polzin said some schools will be closed for several months because they were heavily damaged by Ike.

On Thursday, CenterPoint Energy Inc. reported that 78 percent of its 2.26 million customers in southeast Texas now had electricity in the wake of Ike and that most customers would have power restored by Sunday. Entergy Texas reported it had completed its restoration efforts, with 385,300 customers affected by Ike once again with power. There are about 7,300 customers, many on the Bolivar Peninsula, that will require significant reconstruction before being able to get power back.

Victims of Ike worried about having their power disconnected won't have to do so as the Texas Public Utility Commission on Wednesday approved an emergency order banning electric service disconnections for them until Oct. 10.

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