Texans began flooding back to their homes on Saturday, ignoring pleas from officials to stay put for a few more days.
Although everyone from mayors to the governor to President Bush begged residents to wait for Houston, Galveston and other cities to recover from Hurricane Rita, a wave of returnees clogged highways, impeding emergency responders and tanker trucks trying to refuel gas stations along major routes.
"For those who feel like you need to get back to a city like Houston, it's important that you delay your trip so that essential personnel are able to get to the affected areas," Mr. Bush said.
The president Saturday.
An estimated 1.5 million to two million people were on their way back to Houston on Saturday, and roads from San Antonio and Austin were crowded. A line of cars miles long jammed the causeway to Galveston, even though city officials were turning away all but essential personnel.
When evacuation orders were given to Houston-area residents, nearly 3 million people left their homes, officials said. The ensuing gridlock raised questions of whether a
Steve McCraw, the state's homeland security director, announced a plan for residents to return in phases today, Monday and Tuesday. By that time, however, Interstates 10 and 45 had been clogged for hours, and there was no sign that the plan was being heeded.
"If you return today, we cannot guarantee enough fuel, we cannot guarantee safety along the roads because of debris and downed power lines, and we cannot ensure a fast return," Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.
"If Texans will remain patient and follow this plan, they will find their return trip to be easier and more efficient."
Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation warned motorists not to expect help from the state if they run out of gas. Last week, the agency helped more than 5,000 stranded motorists, including many who ran out of gas while stuck in traffic trying to get out of town.