Residents of this hurricane-wrecked island city launched an ill-advised attempt to return to their crippled hometown Wednesday but instead fumed in hours of gridlocked traffic only to be turned away at the bridge.
Traffic backed up for 20 miles along Interstate 45, the one route onto Galveston Island, jockeying for position with utility workers, repair crews and police trying to begin repairs to the city wrecked by Hurricane Ike five days ago.
The city announced Tuesday that people could briefly return under a new “look and leave” plan, causing evacuees all over the state to pack up and head for the coast. Hours later, it abruptly halted the policy out of fear of just the sort of roadway chaos occurring on Wednesday.
Some people in the long line angrily complained that they'd never heard the policy was rescinded.
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“I don't understand this,” Carlos Azucena said Wednesday, motioning toward repair workers after waiting in line three hours before he was rejected in his third try to go home. “You see those other people. They don't even live here; I live in Galveston.”
Ike's death toll in the U.S. climbed past 50 Wednesday and appeared to level off in Texas, where search teams pulled out of Galveston having searched the entire island for survivors. The task force had checked on almost 6,000 people and performed more than 3,500 rescues since Friday. Seventeen people have died in the state.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was reviewing damage during his second stop in the state since Ike.
In Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city where power was still out and people were still lining up at dozens of distribution centers for basic needs, Chertoff said distribution of food and water were going smoothly.
His appearance came a day after local officials complained that supplies were slow in getting to distribution points, and that the entire process had glitches.
Chertoff also said the federal government was working to help restore electricity to Houston, where nearly 1.4 million people were without power, probably until next week.
Emergency crews working to restore power in Galveston were among the long line trudging toward Galveston. The crowd of residents was only delaying repairs, officials said.