Thousands of victims of Hurricane Ike settled in at shelters for what could be weeks, and others waited wearily in line for food, water, ice and gasoline Monday as it became increasingly clear the disaster along the Texas coast would be measured not by its death toll but by the misery it spread.
Almost three days after the storm steamrolled the coast, the extent of the damage was still coming into focus, with rescue teams finally reaching some of the hardest-hit and most inacessible places, including Bolivar Peninsula, a resort on Galveston Bay where entire neighborhoods were obliterated.
While the number of confirmed deaths was still remarkably low, with at least 30 people killed in multiple states, the distress was considerable.
Nearly 37,000 people were in shelters in Texas, and there was no word on when those living in the most devastated towns, such as Galveston, might return. An estimated 2.2million people in Texas alone remained without power. Many service stations had no gasoline, or no electricity to pump it. With no running water, some residents were dumping toilet waste directly into the sewers. Major highways were still under water.
Victims grew irritable as they waited for food and water. Some relief stations ran out of supplies, leaving thousands hungry and panicked.
Lines of cars stretched two hours or longer at Texas Southern University for packages of bottled water and bags of ice, the only supplies on hand until three 18-wheelers showed up around noon. Cheers broke out when it was announced there were boxes with chili, a small bag of Frito chips and a cookie.
Galveston officials guessed it would be months before the island could reopen, and warned that mosquito-borne diseases could begin to spread. Cows that had escaped flooded pastures wandered around a shattered neighborhood. An elderly man was airlifted to a hospital, his body covered with hundreds of mosquito bites after his splintered home was swarmed.
“Galveston can no longer safely accommodate its population,” City Manager Steve LeBlanc said. “Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for people who remain on the island.”
In San Antonio and Austin, thousands streamed into 284 shelters set up by the state. As local officials sternly warned it wasn't safe to come home, many wondered how long they would be there, how they would pay for meals, and what was happening to their families.
More than 1,300 people, who had spent several nights at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center, complained that they could not get information about how to find food and clean clothes.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged people to be patient, calling rescue workers “heroes” who were doing their best to help their neighbors.