GALVESTON, Texas - 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 47 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.
FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde said he was not aware of the situation White described.
White said other distribution centers were also not getting supplies quickly enough and most were running out of ice.
Bahamonde noted that workers from several agencies are working at the distribution points.
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 of Klein, said she's been told her water service could take up to six weeks to restore. Her family's been using an aquarium to flush the toilet.
"We have a lot of people in here. It's going to get nasty with no toilets," she said. "How do we live without a toilet for a month?"
Bahamonde said FEMA will begin paying for 30 days of hotel expenses for homeowners whose houses are uninhabitable. Information will be posted on the agency's Web site, and FEMA plans to reimburse the hotels directly.
There were still long lines snaking out of gas stations across the city. White said some stations were still without power, rendering their pumps useless. Others had electricity but were out of gas.
Some residents are hoarding gas - filling up their vehicles and portable cans - leaving little for the people behind them in line, White said.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, under pressure from frustrated residents eager to check their homes, opened the island during daylight hours so residents can "look and leave." Security was tight, and checkpoints would block anyone but Galveston residents from coming in.
Hours later, Thomas suspended the "look and leave" policy altogether in a terse news release that gave no explanation, again closing access to the city.
Thomas also said officials want the estimated 15,000 people still living on Galveston Island to leave, since the city has only limited water and sewer service, and no electricity.
Dogs, cats and cattle were freely roaming Galveston's mostly deserted streets. Many of the elderly huddled in damaged houses, walking or using bikes when they had to leave because cars were destroyed or damaged. Some pushed salvaged shopping carts down Seawall Boulevard filled with crates of bottled water and plastic brown pouches holding MREs obtained from relief centers.
A lion was trapped 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."