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Texas Starts on the Long Road to Recovery

AUSTIN, Texas, September 16, 2008 (ENS) – President George W. Bush and Texas Governor Rick Perry visited Houston and Galveston today to survey areas devastated by last weekend’s Hurricane Ike.

A former Texas governor, Bush flew over Galveston, where the airport is still not functional and many homes and businesses were destroyed when the storm made landfall as a major hurricane early Saturday morning.

At Ellington Field in Houston, the president said, “My first observation is that the state government and local folks are working very closely and working hard and have put a good response together. The evacuation plan was excellent in its planning and in execution. The rescue plan was very bold, and we owe a debt of gratitude to those who were on the front line pulling people out of harm’s way, like the Coast Guard people behind us here.”


President George W. Bush walks hand-in-hand
with Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas
today on his visit to storm-affected areas.
(Photo by Eric Draper courtesy The White
House)

“We have decided to match 100 percent – or pay 100 percent with no state match for debris removal, as well as the emergency preparedness that the state and local government have put in place and executed,” Bush said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has 20 crews engaged in debris removal.

Search and rescue teams are still pulling people who did not evacuate out of ruined buildings. On Monday, they found 60 people trapped in their homes and officials expect to find more people who need help to get out of flooded rural areas, said FEMA Administrator David Paulison. He expects search and rescue operations to be completed tomorrow.

To date, more than 3,540 residents from coastal areas have been rescued by air, ground and water.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 270 shelters were open throughout the state housing more than 29,800 evacuees. FEMA officials said more people are entering shelters as they become unable to sustain themselves.

At the state’s request, federal transitional housing assistance is now available to Texas evacuees with inaccessible or uninhabitable homes. The list of approved hotels/motels can be found at: www.femaevachotels.com. Please note that the number of approved hotels/motels is constantly being updated. To register for transitional housing assistance, visit www.fema.gov or call toll free at 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585.

More than 1,322 truckloads of water and 1,161 truckloads of ice have been distributed throughout the storm-affected areas.

Monday evening, at the state’s request, the federal government granted Texas a federal waiver to provide emergency food stamps to eligible low-income individuals and families living in any of the 29 counties that were declared disaster areas. Replacement food stamp benefits for those currently eligible will help more than 500,000 Texans in areas where power outages or flooding damaged or destroyed their food supply.


Governor Rick Perry comforts evacuees. (Photo
courtesy Office of the Governor)

Governor Perry today issued an emergency proclamation authorizing public utility companies in Texas to speed relief and recovery efforts by laying temporary electric transmission lines to restore power lost as a result of Hurricane Ike.

Power companies in areas affected by the storm are working around the clock to restore electricity. To date, power has been restored to 800,000 customers, but nearly two million customers remain without power in east Texas and along the coast.

“Restoring power is one of the most critical, humanitarian challenges we face in the immediate aftermath of this natural disaster,” Perry said. “This proclamation will help public utility companies restore electricity faster to millions of homes, hospitals, schools and businesses affected by Hurricane Ike.”

The governor’s proclamation will grant public utilities in Texas the authority to enter public and private property and install temporary electric transmission lines to restore power. The directive removes the lengthy easement acquisition process which could otherwise take months.

Companies must use existing utility and roadway easements when reasonably available and must provide landowners with a letter justifying their authority to access private property. Governor Perry took the same action following Hurricane Rita in 2005.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has launched a feature on its website to allow customers to check the status of power outages by entering their utility provider and zip code at: http://www.puc.state.tx.us/files/ike.cfm.

FEMA Administrator Paulison said the agency is now moving from the search and rescue phase into the “sustainment phase.”

The agency opened points of distribution yesterday, getting people meals, getting food and water, ice, blankets and tarps. “That’s been going very well,” said Paulison. “A lot of long lines, there’s no question about that, but everybody is able to get through and get some meals and get ice and water to take back to their houses.”

Now FEMA is starting to work with the state to supply long-term housing for the many people whose homes have been destroyed. Paulison said, “We’re setting up with the state a joint housing task force that will be led by the state, and involve the state, local community, FEMA, HUD, HHS, the VA, the Department of Agriculture and a couple other federal departments, to deal with the longer-term housing.”


FEMA search and rescue crews go house
to house in flooded Sabine, Texas.
September 14, 2008 (Photo by Jocelyn
Augustino courtesy FEMA)

“Like we’ve seen in past hurricanes, sometimes it’s months or even 18 months before people get back into their homes,” Paulison said. “So we’ve got to make sure we find a place for people to stay – looking at apartments, looking at some of the extended-stay hotel-type facilities to make sure people have a safe, comfortable place to stay until their homes are rebuilt.”

In Presidio, Texas, the Rio Grande River is two to six feet below the top of the levees and the levees have not breached. All but one of Mexico’s reservoirs on the Conchos River which feed into the Rio Grande at Presidio are above flood control capacity and are spilling.

Mexico is releasing water from Luis Leon reservoir, the only reservoir not above flood control capacity. Officials on both sides of the border say these releases cannot be turned off or slowed because the reservoir is at 96 percent capacity with inflows from upstream reservoirs rapidly filling the remaining capacity.

The International Boundary and Water Commission and Mexico’s National Water Commission will conduct an on-site evaluation of the situation.

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for low lying areas of Presidio, and 500 people have been evacuated. If the levees break, another 4,500 residents are at risk, but no evacuation order has been issued for these residents.

Six ports are still closed – Freeport, Galveston, Houston, Port Arthur-Beaumont, Lake Charles, and Texas City.

Heavy flooding has turned the coast at Port Arthur into a muddy mess, and Coast Guard crews were kept busy surrounding polluted areas with containment booms and moving dirt to help trucks launch boats without getting stuck.

Sixteen refineries remain shut-down in Louisiana and Texas; eight refineries are operating with reduced runs, and four refineries are operating within normal ranges. Colonial gas pipeline has resumed operations and is operating at reduced flow. The Explorer pipeline is making final preparations for start up after power is restored; no significant damage has been noted.

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