GALVESTON - Thousands of residents streamed back to their storm-battered island city Wednesday, many for the first time since fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Ike nearly two weeks ago.
Huge lines of traffic backed up on the one major highway leading into Galveston, but things appeared to go smoothly once the city of about 57,000 started letting people in about 6 a.m. Many people had been waiting in their cars along Interstate 45 since before dawn. Police officers were stationed to direct traffic at major intersections where signal lights were ripped away by the hurricane's 110-mile-per-hour wind and 12-foot storm surge on Sept. 13.
Ruben Rosas, 74, one of those who had fled to San Antonio, had joined the line on I-45 at about 3 a.m. Once he reached his first-floor apartment located on a bayou, he found that the walls and nearly all his possessions were gone. He did find a large cross that had been on his father's coffin and a small "King of Dads" statue his kids gave him when they were young.
"This is just sad, but the good thing is, I'm still around," Rosas said. "I can recuperate these things sooner or later."
City officials had prepared residents for such scenes, painting a dreary picture about living conditions on the island since Ike's devastation.
"When you come back it's not going to be the same Galveston Island you left," Mayor Pro Tem Danny Weber said Tuesday. "It's been damaged. It's been broken."
At least 61 deaths, 26 of them in Texas, were blamed on the Category 2 hurricane and its remnants. Roughly 45,000 of the city's 57,000 residents fled Galveston Island, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, along with hundreds of thousands more along other sections of the Texas coast.
Galveston still only has limited medical, power, water and sewer system capabilities.