Prayer Brings Comfort To Texas Coast

Wearing jeans and rubber boots, clutching Bibles and weeping between hymns, residents of the storm-shattered Texas coast comforted each other Sunday at makeshift church services that provided more than a respite from the Hurricane Ike cleanup.

About 50 people came together on a basketball court outside the Oak Island Baptist Church, just south of Interstate 10 about a mile from the tip of Trinity Bay. They sat on folding chairs or simply stood, forced outdoors by the 1-inch layer of mud left inside the single-story red brick building by floodwaters that tossed pews like matchsticks.

A demolished mobile home was still lodged among trees, many of them snapped by the storm's 110-mph winds that somehow left the church's trio of 20-foot white crosses still standing. Across the street, piles of debris had sprouted, proof of the labor undertaken since the storm blew through last weekend and of the work yet to come.

"I know it's hard. Looking around, it's tough," the Rev. Eddie Shauberger told the congregants. "But there is a God, and he has a plan for our lives."

Similar services were being held on Galveston Island and throughout the Houston area, where power had been restored to enough residents that schools planned to hold classes Monday for the first time since the storm.

In Galveston, Bobby and Pamela Quiroga sought succor at a Mass set up in the historic Hotel Galvez. They went to their Roman Catholic church a week ago, the day after the storm arrived, but it was closed.

"It's just good to be around people," Bobby Quiroga said. He added, letting his voice trail off, "When you feel a wave shake your house ...."

The newly married 42-year-olds were still trying to gather their senses eight days after watching their homes and businesses flooded by Ike's 12-foot surge.

Pamela Quiroga dabbed her swollen eyes with a hand towel and vowed never to live on the island again.

"When I fall asleep," she said, "I see the water rising."

Observances in the hardest-hit spots were not overflowing with residents. Most of Galveston won't reopen until Wednesday, and it could be weeks or more before basic services are restored in all areas.

Still, the island is far from deserted - at least 15,000 people ignored mandatory evacuation orders before and after the storm, and many of them were still there Sunday. Some businesses were beginning to reopen, cell phone service was improving and electricity was coming back on.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(Left: A teddy bear sits among the rubble of a home a week after it was ravaged by Hurricane Ike in Seabrook, Texas, Sept. 20, 2008.)

But the strides are small, and island leaders emphasized that Galveston remained dangerous. Fuel and other essentials remained scarce. Police will indefinitely enforce a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew once the island reopens, and parents were warned their children could be exposed to infections from storm debris and other hazards.

Planes continued spraying the island to control mosquitoes. Officials urged those returning to wear masks to protect from mold and to properly dispose of spoiled food to stave off vermin.

Cadaver dogs continued sniffing through rubble and debris on Bolivar Peninsula, which suffered even heavier damage than Galveston. Residents there will be loaded into dump trucks and other heavy vehicles this week to examine their homes, since the main road is impassible in many spots.

Authorities had blamed the storm for 26 deaths in Texas and 61 total in the U.S., including a utility contractor from Florida who was electrocuted Friday while trying to restore power in Louisville, Kentucky.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(From left, Lazaro Sanchez, Gustavo Gallardo and Manuel Santana fix a leaking gas line among the rubble of a hurricane-ravaged neighborhood in Seabrook, Texas, Sept. 20, 2008.)

Power had been restored to most of the customers in Texas whose electricity was cut by Ike, though the state said about 875,000 remained in the dark Sunday.

More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast as Ike steamed across the Gulf of Mexico.
By Associated Press Writers Angela K. Brown and Cain Burdeau; the AP's Paul J. Weber in Houston contributed to this report