One week after Hurricane Ike tore up Galveston on its way through Houston and much of the eastern U.S., the battered barrier island began to bustle again Saturday as pockets reopened briefly and more repair crews arrived.
Most of the 45,000 who fled the island more than a week ago will be allowed to return for good Wednesday, officials said, though it could be weeks or more before basic services are restored in all areas.
Authorities cautioned that residents could find drastically different conditions depending on how their property fared.
“We have people whose homes are totally and completely destroyed, all the way to the other end of the spectrum, to where your home is perfectly fine,” City Manager Steve LeBlanc said.
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The Jamaica Beach community began allowing residents onto the island Saturday to examine their property, then leave. That news prompted another miles-long traffic jam on the only road onto Galveston Island.
Fuel and other essentials remained in short supply. Some businesses were beginning to reopen, cell service was improving and electricity was coming back on.
But the strides are small, and island leaders emphasized that Galveston remained dangerous. Police will indefinitely enforce a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew once the island reopens, and parents were warned their children could be exposed to infections.
Planes continued spraying the island to control mosquitoes, and officials urged returnees to wear masks to protect from mold and to properly dispose of spoiled food waste to stave off vermin.
Hundreds of stop signs were being trucked in to replace traffic lights, nearly all of which were blown away, and 150 state troopers were on their way to help police the city.
State Rep. Craig Eiland called the preparations essential for controlling the “chaos and congestion” expected as residents come home.
“We will have order in the city,” LeBlanc said.
The increased activity was welcome news to evacuees, but less so to at least some of the roughly 15,000 who rode out the Category 2 storm on the island.
“To be honest, I have been comfortable these past nine days without noise, without stupid sirens,” 61-year-old Leonid Elokhine said as he walked home from trying to find supplies to fix his flooded car.
Judy Aronson and Susan Henry, allowed onto the island thanks to Aronson's job at the hospital, returned Saturday to clean their home. Aronson said things aren't as bad as the picture painted by officials.
“We need to get in our homes and businesses to clean this stuff so it doesn't get more mold and mildew,” said Henry, whose photography studio took 7 feet of water.
Grim reminders of the storm's force accompanied the bits of good news. Cadaver dogs were to sniff through rubble and debris Sunday in Bolivar Peninsula, which suffered even heavier damage that Galveston.
Residents of Bolivar Peninsula will also start seeing their homes next week, albeit for only a quick peek. Because the main road is impassible in many spots, residents will be loaded into dump trucks and other heavy vehicles for their tour.
Authorities had blamed the storm for 26 deaths in Texas and 61 total in the U.S., including a utility contractor from Florida who was electrocuted Friday while trying to restore power in Louisville, Ky.
Power had been restored Saturday to more than half the customers in Texas whose electricity was cut by Ike, though state officials said about 1.2 million remained in the dark Saturday.
“If there's one word that describes recovery, it's power,” Gov. Rick Perry said.
Conditions in the nation's fourth-largest city also were improving. Houston schools that have been closed since Ike are to begin reopening Tuesday, with all campuses to be open by Sept. 29.