It's race against time to save Ike stalwarts

By: AP
By: AP
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Rescue crews canvassed neighborhoods inundated by Ike's storm surge early Sunday morning, racing against time to save those who spent a second harrowing night trapped amid flattened houses, strewn debris and downed power lines.

One team of paramedics, rescue dogs and structural engineers fanned out under a nearly full moon on a finger of land in Galveston Bay. Authorities hoped to spare thousands of Texans - 140,000 by some estimates who ignored orders to flee ahead of Hurricane Ike - from another night among the destruction. Some had been rescued, but unknown thousands remained stranded.

Only four deaths had been blamed on Ike so far: two in Texas and two in Louisiana.

President Bush planned to travel to Texas on Tuesday to express sympathy and lend support to the storm's victims. He asked people who evacuated before the hurricane to listen to local authorities before trying to return home.

Roads blocked by waist-deep water and downed trees kept many rescuers at bay as they struggled through the largest search-and-rescue effort in state history, just a day after the Category 2 storm crashed into Texas with 110 mph winds.

Five-year-old Jack King escaped serious injury when storm surge sent a rush of water that washed out the first floor of his family's Galveston home just two blocks from the bay.

"I falled in the attic," Jack told paramedic Stanley Hempstead of his 10-foot tumble through the attic and onto the garage floor. Jack and his family had taken refuge in the room, loaded with blankets and other supplies. As the Texas Task Force 1 Search and Rescue crew arrived, Jack gazed at a TV aglow with "The Simpsons." The only evidence of his fall was a Band-Aid plastered to his closely-cropped hair, covering a gash.

"We just didn't think it was going to come up like this," said the boy's father, Lee King. "I'm from New Orleans, I know better. I just didn't think it was going to happen."

The Kings had hoped that a family member would pick them up, but a paramedic told him the road inland wouldn't be open for days. Lee King thought they could survive another night, but then their generator died. He ultimately decided the family was ready to leave.

Hempstead and other team members sailed through flooded streets Saturday, evoking thoughts of another disastrous storm that kept him working for 31 days.

"This brings back memories of Katrina - a lot of torn up homes and flooded stuff," he said of the hurricane that struck New Orleans three years ago.

On one side of the Galveston peninsula, a couple of barges had broken loose and smashed into homes. Everything from red vinyl barstools to clay roof tiles littered the landscape. Some homes were "pancaked," the second floor sitting where the first had been before Ike's surge washed it out. Only the stud frames remained below the roofs of many houses, opening a clear view from front yard to back.

Gov. Rick Perry's office said 940 people had been saved by nightfall Saturday, but that thousands had made distress calls the night before. Another 600 were rescued from flooding in neighboring Louisiana.

"What's really frustrating is that we can't get to them," Galveston police officer Tommie Mafrei said. "It's jeopardizing our safety when we try to tell them eight hours before to leave. They are naive about it, thinking it's not going to be that bad."

Some coastal residents waded through chest-deep water with their belongings and children in their arms to get to safety Saturday. Military helicopters loaded others carrying plastic bags and pets in their arms and brought them to dry ground.

Big-wheeled dump trucks, boats and helicopters were at the ready to continue searching hard-hit Galveston and Orange County at daybreak Sunday.

The water had reached 3 feet deep in Jeffrey Jordan's Galveston living room by the time police arrived to save him and his family. Like many who were rescued in the hours after the storm, he was escorted to a shelter.

"They sent a dump truck to get us," Jordan said. "We shouldn't have been there because the water was rising something like a foot every five minutes."

Orange Mayor Brown Claybar estimated about a third of the city of 19,000 people was flooded, anywhere from six inches to six feet. He said about 375 people who stayed behind during the storm began to emerge, some needing food, water and medical care.

"These people got out with the wet shirts on their back," said Claybar, who had no idea of how many people were still stranded. Claybar was optimistic that the foot-and-a-half of water over the levee had receded overnight. If so, the city could begin pumping the water out, Claybar said. He didn't know exactly how long it would take to drain the city.

"I would say at least a couple of days," Claybar said.

In downtown Houston, winds shattered the windows of gleaming skyscrapers, sleeting glass onto the streets below. Police used bullhorns to order people back into their homes. Furniture littered the streets, and business documents stamped "classified" had been carried by the wind through shattered office windows.

The storm weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday morning, but was still packing winds up to 35 mph as it dumped rain over Arkansas and traveled across Missouri. Tornado warning sirens sounded Saturday in parts of Arkansas, and the still-potent storm downed trees and knocked out power to thousands there.

Ike was the first major storm to directly hit a major U.S. metropolitan area since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

More than 3 million were without power in Texas at the height of the storm, and it could be weeks before it is fully restored. Utilities made some progress by late Saturday, and lights returned to parts of Houston. In Louisiana, battered by both Ike and Labor Day's Hurricane Gustav, 180,000 homes and businesses were without power.

Storm surge that crawled some 30 miles inland in Louisiana flooded tens of thousands of homes. A levee broke and some 13,000 buildings flooded in Terrebonne Parish, 200 miles from Texas. More than 160 people had to be saved from floodwaters near Lake Charles.

Though emergency crews were frustrated by those who stayed behind, weary residents of East Texas' swamplands and Big Piney Woods were beginning to feel that whatever decision they make about a Gulf hurricane is wrong.

In 2005, they were battered by Hurricane Rita, a powerful September storm that ripped pine trees from their roots, smashed trailer- and wood-frame homes and left them in what has become a perpetual state of disrepair with the trademark FEMA blue tarps still visible over some.

Wary of another such disaster, they listened when authorities told them to get out of Gustav's way last week. They spent days in north Texas shelters or doled out precious dollars on hotels and gas while their homes received nothing more than a mild shower.

This time around, thousands ignored the mandatory evacuation order and were sucker-punched by the stronger side of Ike.

Those who did leave were glad they heeded orders, despite the inconvenience. Retired nurse Ida Mayfield said that because Gustav hit Louisiana and not Beaumont two weeks ago, many decided not to evacuate ahead of Ike. She was warm and dry at a church-turned shelter in Tyler, along with thousands of her neighbors.

"Two o'clock this morning made a believer out of all of them," said the 52-year-old Mayfield, adding that she spoke to a friend Saturday who was on a roof waiting for help after calling 911. "They're scared now."

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Associated Press Writers Pauline Arrillaga in Houston, Jay Root and Kelley Shannon in Austin, Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, April Castro, Mark Williams and Andre Coe in College Station, Allen G. Breed in Surfside Beach, Juan Lozano in Orange, Elizabeth White in San Antonio and Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.

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