Authorities vow to force holdouts off Texas coast

September 16, 2008 9:20:18 PM PDT
About 250 people who withstood Hurricane Ike on a coastal sliver of land will be forced off it so crews can begin the recovery effort, authorities said Tuesday, vowing to invoke emergency powers to make it happen. County Judge Jim Yarbrough, the top elected official in Galveston County, said those who defied warnings that they would be killed if they rode out the storm on the Bolivar Peninsula are a "hardy bunch" and there are some "old timers who aren't going to want to leave."

The Texas attorney general's office is trying to figure out how legally to force the holdouts to leave, Yarbrough said. Local authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to get residents to a safer place.

The peninsula is too damaged for residents to stay, and with no gas, no power and no running water, there is also concern about spread of disease, officials said.

"I don't want to do it," Yarbrough said. "I'm doing it because it's in their best interests."

Authorities may never know if people who tried to weather the storm were washed out to sea. So far, there are no confirmed fatalities, but Yarbrough and other officials said he didn't think that would hold.

"I'm not Pollyana. I think we will find some," he said.

Ike's death toll officially stood at 48 Tuesday, with most of the deaths coming outside of Texas.

Authorities confirmed a total of nine deaths in the Houston metropolitan area, all from post-storm debris-clearing work, house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning by generator use. Dozens of others had been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials said.

The majority of Houston was still without power late Tuesday, with CenterPoint Energy projecting most would be without electricity for another week. Residents again waited in line for hours on end at the 22 supply distribution centers set up in Houston to hand out food, water and ice.

The mayor of the nation's fourth-largest city complained the Federal Emergency Management Agency wasn't bringing in the supplies fast enough. Mayor Bill White also asked that a federal supervisor at a distribution center be fired for telling the drivers of two trucks - one filled with ice and other with food - to turn around. The supervisor thought the site was stocked, but it wasn't.

"That is not going to happen again," White said, adding that other distribution centers were also not getting supplies quickly enough and most were running out of ice.

FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde said he was not aware of the situation White described, but said Judge Ed Emmett - the top elected official in Harris County - was now personally coordinating the efforts to hand out relief supplies.

"As the requests come in, we're really starting to refine the system," Bahamonde said. "We've set up a distribution system to deliver millions of meals and water in literally a 24-hour period. There were glitches along the way. But by the end of the day, we had refined some of those glitches and we'll see that progress more."

White eased the city's curfew, now from midnight to 6 a.m., but urged motorists to stay off the streets after dark. So far, about 100 people have been cited for curfew violations and 94 arrested for looting, authorities said.

Rhonda Clayburn, who lives in a trailer park in the Houston suburb olrapped in the sanctuary of a Baptist church in Crystal Beach, and a tiger was on the loose after getting free from an exotic pet sanctuary. An official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the tidal surge from Ike left a "sheen" of oil on the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, potentially endangering rare species of birds and other animals.

Shortages also were being felt in smaller communities. Hand-written cardboard signs warned travelers in a remote area near Webster "Help No Power" and "No Power, Water Well, And Septic is Down, Please Don't Forget."

York and Teresa Linebarger, who live near the signs, said a neighbor put them up to remind people about the three weeks the community endured without power after Hurricane Alicia in 1983.

"This area is so secluded, most people don't' even know it's here," said Teresa Linebarger, 60.

Her husband noted that compared to the people on the Bolivar Peninsula, "we're in pretty doggone good shape."

It's an opinion shared by Willis Turner, 58, who rode out the storm in Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula.

"You watch the TV and you listen to those guys getting mad up in Houston because they can't get water. Or they can't go to the grocery store shopping," he said. "They don't know what disaster is ... they ought to be here. They'd know what disaster is."