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Ike victims may wait weeks for hot meals, baths

Houston_More Hurricane Ike relief was on the way for evacuees Tuesday as tens of thousands of people waited for food, water and ice, for the electricity to return to their homes or their first hot meal and shower.

The number of distribution centers was to be quadrupled to 60 by the end of the day. Still, for some, the wait for a return to normalcy could be days. For others, it could be weeks.

"A good bath would be nice: have the fire department swing by and spray us down," said Carlos Silliman as he sat on a picnic bench in front of his Galveston Island home, where 18 inches of water flooded his garage and ruined a freezer full of venison. "I'm ready to have a cold beer and read the paper."

For most, such luxuries are far beyond the horizon. Many service stations have no gasoline, and some major highways remain under water. More than 30,000 evacuees are still living in nearly 300 public shelters, and roughly 2 million people in Texas alone are without power.

Ike's survivors have already walked for miles and waited for hours at supply distribution centers, gobbling up all that was offered: 1 million bottles of water, 1 million meals and 600,000 pounds of ice in just the first 36 hours after the storm passed.

It's not enough, and those dispatching truck after truck to distribution centers around the city know it. One such center north of Houston drew 10,000 people Monday in search of food and water.

"That process will continue 24 hours a day," said Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Marty Bahamonde. "We'll never be empty of trucks at the staging area and the goal is to never be empty at the points of distribution."

The relief roll-out appeared to defuse tensions that had flared between FEMA and local officials after Houston Mayor Bill White vowed to hold FEMA accountable for delivering on its commitments.

Officials from Texas pressed for equal treatment from federal aid agencies. "I have asked the president and the administration to just treat us as fairly as they treated Louisiana back during Katrina," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "Texans will take care of the rest."

FEMA said it will deliver 7.5 million meals over the next few days, along with 5.1 million gallons of water, 19.2 million pounds of ice and 80,000 tarps.

Ike victims are in for tough times, FEMA Administrator David Paulison said. "Some people will be out of their homes for not only weeks, but months," he said.

President Bush said Texas residents are "very frustrated" by the slow pace of recovery but "my message will be that we hear you and we'll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal."

A curfew remains in force for Houston, barring people from being on city streets from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., and officials were working to prevent looting and theft.

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said the city has issued 108 citations and arrested 33 people who violated the citywide curfew that began on Sunday night. Hurtt said the arrests included several people in a stolen car, with stolen items inside.

Bush was visiting Houston and Galveston on Tuesday to talk with emergency officials and inspect the damage. He'll find beaches scoured clean of vacation homes, oil-slicked water and beaches with a sheen in Galveston - even burial vaults wrenched from the soggy ground by the storm's surge.

Officials on the barrier island said it could be months before the city of Galveston reopens. The main gas and a primary electric transmission line to the island were severely damaged by Ike, which also tore at the wharves in the city's port. Officials warned that mosquito-borne diseases could begin to spread after one elderly man was airlifted to a hospital covered with hundreds of bites.

"Galveston can no longer safely accommodate its population," City Manager Steve LeBlanc said. "Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for people who remain on the island."

Across the entrance to Galveston Bay on Bolivar Peninsula, a resort community where entire neighborhoods were obliterated by the height of Ike's storm surge, only one or two buildings remained standing in the town of Gilchrist. Aaron Reed, a spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said the town "is almost completely gone. Like somebody took a razor and went pffft."

Bolivar Peninsula is home to about 30,000 people during the peak summer season, but after scouring almost all of the western end of the peninsula by nightfall Monday, officials said they had found no dead. But Reed said he had spoken with residents who weren't able to find fellow holdouts after the storm, and he feared their bodies might turn up as the waters recede.

Home designer and builder Bobby Anderson limped off the peninsula late Monday in a pickup truck battered by the storm, saying Ike swept out to sea a woman who had clung with him to a building's rafters. When asked to describe their ordeal, he refused.

"I'd really rather not," Anderson said.

Ike's death toll officially stood at 40 Tuesday, with most of the deaths coming outside of Texas. Among those killed in the state were at least three people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after using generators.

Still, there are signs the recovery is moving forward. Houston Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan said emergency calls dropped dramatically by Monday afternoon, and Mayor Bill White rescinded a mandate to boil water. White also said residents of the Clear Lake area, which had been under a mandatory evacuation order, could safely return home.

At the supply distribution centers, the lines were long but most people patiently waited. At Texas Southern University, where lines of cars stretched two hours or longer for bottled water and bags of ice, 33-year-old LaChandra Noel arrived with her 11-year-old deaf and blind daughter in a wheelchair. Those ahead of Noel let her go to the front and get water and ice first.

"It all seems to be working," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. "People are being patient."

At the Justine Apartments in downtown Galveston, residents were surviving with a hibachi grill, a coffee maker, and a stash of beer, wine and liquor. Meals Ready to Eat were dropped off by the National Guard. Linda Lennon, 58, suggested the beef stew.

"We're all sticking together," she said.

COPYRIGHT 2008 BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, Reuters contributed to this article

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