Makeshift church services comfort the Texas coast

Wearing jeans and rubber boots, clutching Bibles and weeping between hymns, residents of the storm-shattered Texas coast comforted one another Sunday at makeshift church services that provided more than a respite from Hurricane Ike cleanup.

About 50 people gathered on a basketball court outside Oak Island Baptist Church, just south of Interstate 10 about a mile from the tip of Trinity Bay. They sat on folding chairs or stood, forced outdoors by the inch of mud left in the single-story red brick building by floodwaters that tossed pews like matchsticks.

A demolished mobile home was still lodged among trees, many of them snapped by 110-mph winds that somehow left the church's trio of 20-foot white crosses standing. Across the street, piles of debris had sprouted, proof of labor undertaken since the storm last weekend and of the work yet to come.

“I know it's hard. Looking around, it's tough,” the Rev. Eddie Shauberger told the congregants. “But there is a God, and he has a plan for our lives.”

Similar services were being held on Galveston Island and throughout the Houston area, where power had been restored to enough residents that schools planned to hold classes today for the first time since the storm.

In Galveston, Bobby and Pamela Quiroga attended a Mass set up in the historic Hotel Galvez. They went to their Roman Catholic church a week ago, the day after the storm, but it was closed.

“It's just good to be around people,” Bobby Quiroga said. “When you feel a wave shake your house ….”

The newlywed 42-year-olds were trying to gather their senses eight days after watching their homes and businesses flooded by Ike's 12-foot surge.

Pamela Quiroga vowed never to live on the island again.

“When I fall asleep,” she said, “I see the water rising.”

Observances in the hardest-hit spots weren't overflowing with residents. Most of Galveston won't reopen until Wednesday, and it could be weeks or more before basic services are restored in all areas.

Still, the island is far from deserted – at least 15,000 people ignored mandatory evacuation orders before and after the storm, and many remained Sunday. Some businesses were beginning to reopen, cell service was improving, and electricity was coming back on.