Ike's wake triggers massive relief and cleanup effort
One of the largest storms in US history will cost billions of dollars.
After the largest search-and-rescue mission in Texas history pulled out some 2,000 people stranded by hurricane Ike's 500-mile-wide storm surge, an equally massive humanitarian relief effort has kicked into gear to bolster a dazed southeast Texas, where gas, food, ice, and patience are all in short supply.Skip to next paragraph
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Based on initial reports, hurricane Ike is clearly nothing less than a whopper.
Nationally, the storm – which initially paralyzed the financial and energy center of Houston, America's fourth-largest city – could weigh down the already fragile American economy. For sure, it burdens as many as 5 million Texans and Louisianans having to contend with the long, sweaty slog back from what is likely to become the second-most costly storm in US history, with some damage estimates running more than $20 billion.
From the debris fields of Galveston to the flooded back roads of Orange County, Tex., millions of people went into survival mode as federal and state authorities rushed humanitarian relief – including 80 trucks of military-style "meals ready to eat" (MREs), ice, diapers, and water – into Houston, where Texans were ordered to "hunker down" before the storm. Millions of people face weeks without electricity in the Gulf's subtropical heat.
"It grieves you to see the damage that our beloved Texas has faced," said Gov. Rick Perry. "Ike had a pretty solid punch, but he didn't dent our spirits."
Those spirits – as well as those of the nation as a whole – will be tested in coming weeks and months as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies plan to end search-and-rescue missions Tuesday, focusing solely on humanitarian relief.
Few, if any supplies, had been distributed more than 24 hours after Ike made landfall, leaving even some first responders hungry.
What's more, charitable organizations, which played a central role in post-Katrina emergency relief, report they're already exhausted and depleted after responding to hurricanes Gustav and Hanna, as well as tropical storm Fay.
"It's ironic that this has happened over the anniversary weekend of 9/11," says Walter Gillis Peacock, the director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University in College Station.
"There's still this sense of the country on a warfooting and not addressing the fundamental issues of coordination, information flow, and issues of constantly outsourcing things," he says. "There's still a broader issue ... of natural hazards and the whole process of where we build, how we build, and we need to start facing that."
Television images of the destruction showed that Ike had transformed the Texas Gulf Coast.
Much of Galveston is ripped to shreds. Coast Guard helicopter pilots said yachts were piled up on a golf course near Sabine Pass on the Texas-Louisiana border. National Guard soldiers removed a shrimp boat from the road into rural Hackberry, La., but were turned back by strong currents and low visibility before reaching the enclave, where some 100 people remained stranded.