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Millions Still In Dark Over Ike Recovery

The lights are back on in downtown Houston, but there is little relief for many across the Midwest, as millions remain without power.

From Galveston to Cincinnati, the fallout from Ike still leaves almost 3 million people in seven states with no electricity - almost 2 million in Texas alone.

And full restoration of power could take weeks.

But power isn't the only issue - not when the mayor of Galveston compared conditions in her city to a third world country: "Galveston is an island of mold and mildew, debris and disease," Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said.

Still, some 15,000 residents refuse to leave, so officials debate whether to force them out.

Dr. David Lakey, state health commissioner, said he has seen respiratory illnesses, minor traumas such as burns and falls, stress and fatigue.

"The capacity to take care of moderate injuries and illnesses is not here at this time," Lakey said. "It's my opinion that individuals should not be living on the island at this time."

A short-lived policy allowing evacuees back onto Galveston temporarily to examine their property and then leave generated massive traffic jams onto the island, blocking first responders. That policy has since been reversed.

In Houston, Dr. James McCarthy of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, said Ike's new victims have been those injured during the cleanup.

"Patients keep coming," he told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. "Falling off roofs, tree-cutting injuries, getting hit with branches. People who have no business operating a chain saw decided this was their time to learn and are injuring themselves."

Downed trees are just part of the mess. By one estimate, Ike's debris
just in Houston would fill more than 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Mary McCauley hauled hers away herself: "They said we had to rely on FEMA or whoever for trash pickup. I'm just going to take care of it myself," she told CBS News.

Every day shows progress: for instance, Houston's water has been declared safe to drink again. But the process is massive and slow, so even a week from now, as many as a million people in Houston may still be without power.

Ohioans Cope Without Electricity For Fifth Day

Ohio's utilities reported about 900,000 homes and businesses still without power, down from 2.6 million customers at some point after the windstorm hit Sunday. Nearly 350,000 still were without power Wednesday in Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Utilities hoped to restore power to those still coping without it on Thursday, but some could be in the dark until the weekend.

(AP/Joseph Fuqua II, Cin. Enquirer)
(Left: Support workers for Duke Energy work on replacing three power poles and lines in Covedale, Ohio, Sept. 17, 2008.)

Power restoration has been delayed because damage from the hurricane-force winds was unprecedented for the region and required companies to call in crews from other states to help, utilities said. In some cases, Ohio-based crews were recalled from Texas and other southern states after having been sent there to help with Ike's aftermath.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Ellen Raines said Wednesday that system improvements and tree-trimming near power lines in the years since the widespread blackout of 2003 weren't factors this week.

"There is really no way to prevent outages when you have 70-plus (mph) winds that begin at 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening and go through midnight," Raines said, adding the storm caused widespread system damage.

"It brought down entire trees, poles and wires and it's requiring us to rebuild entire sections of our system. There really isn't anything you could do as a utility to prevent that," she said.

On Wednesday, fallen trees still blocked roads in areas outside Cincinnati. Ted Metcalfe said trees blocking streets near his home in Clermont County had turned a five-minute drive to a nearby shopping area into a 20-minute obstacle course.

"Getting there was like driving through a war zone," he said.

Some Cincinnati-area schools were set to reopen on Thursday, while others still lacked power. Columbus city schools announced they would not reopen. Some other schools across the state were waiting on power, and others were trying to replace cafeteria food that had spoiled.

Some schools already have used three of their five allotted "calamity days," which are usually used during winter weather and give students time off with no make-ups.

Suburban Cincinnati resident Bill Cunningham said he expected his power back Saturday. Until then, he's eating takeout and looking forward to a cheaper electric bill this month.

"Worse things could happen," he said. "We could be in Houston."

Texans Slog Through Cleanup

In Seabrook, just off Galveston Bay that was hard-hit by the storm, residents who are looking after that destroyed or damaged homes are reduced to sleeping in tents, relying on generators for lights.

Seabrook officials say Ike destroyed or caused major damage to a thousand homes, roughly a quarter of all houses in the city.

On Todville Road, which runs along the Bay, the damage is at its worse. Most of the city's waterfront fish and shrimp markets are destroyed.

The Parkers returned to their home to assess the damage. Built in the 1930s, the house that has weathered decades of storms was raised 14 feet off its foundation last year.

The house, perched on columns and now 18 feet above sea level, is still there. "That really saved it," Mrs. Parker told CBS affiliate KHOU-TV correspondent Kevin Peters.

False Alarm

KHOU also reports that after a local radio station incorrectly announced that FEMA would distribute hurricane aide checks, hundreds lined up at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston late Wednesday night seeking aid.

As the crowds grew, the Harris County Office of Emergency Management sent out a release stating that no financial aid was being offered.

There have been no announced plans yet by FEMA to offer direct financial assistance; the agency is asking people to register online or by phone (1-800-621-FEMA, or 1-800-462-7585 TTY) to see if they might qualify.

Number Of Fatalities Rises

The death toll for Ike now stands at 51, with the statistics reflecting a swath of tragedy across the heart of America:

  • Eighteen are dead in Texas, including at least five in Harris County from carbon monoxide poisoning. A woman in Port Arthur died when she was refueling a generator that caught fire in a house without electricity.
  • In Louisiana, six died, including two contractors who were electrocuted. Two people were killed in Pennsylvania, including a 43-year-old utility worker who was electrocuted when he stepped on a live wire while working to repair power lines.
  • One man in Arkansas was killed by a tree falling on a mobile home. In Ohio, five were killed by falling trees and a sixth person was electrocuted while working on a generator.
  • In Indiana seven people died, including a father and son killed helping children escape from a ditch. In Illinois, two deaths were reported, including an elderly man found in a flooded
  • In Missouri, four people died, including a woman struck by a tree limb and an elderly man suspected of drowning in a flooded yard. A 10-year-old Kentucky boy was killed after being struck by a tree limb while mowing a lawn.
  • In Michigan, a 20-month-old boy apparently drowned in a stormwater-filled ditch, and a 15-year-old was killed when his all-terrain vehicle crashed into a hidden ravine created by storm water. And in Tennessee two golfers were killed by a falling tree.