Accessibility links

Lack of Power Continues to Slow Texas Gulf Coast Recovery Efforts

Lack of electrical power is slowing efforts to bring normalcy back to southeast Texas, hit hard by Hurricane Ike last week. Private companies operating in the area have thousands of people working around the region, but many neighborhoods remain in the dark almost a week after the storm passed through. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.

Electric line crews are at work in the hardest hit areas along the coast trying to restore downed lines, replace burned out transformers and reconnect communities to the part of the grid that is functioning. The area that will likely take the longest to recover is Galveston, which sits on an island of the same name at the mouth of the bay below Houston.

Thousands of Galveston residents and property owners want to return, but city officials say it may be weeks before they can do so safely. Aside from the power problem, water is a major concern.

Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc says there are pumps operating to bring clean water to the island from a mainland station, but the combination of usage and leakage from damaged facilities is more than the amount that can be brought in. He says the water situation is one of the major reasons why people should not return now.

"We don't have adequate water, at this point, for just taking a shower or flushing a toilet. We are still not there. We certainly do not have adequate water for fire protection. We do not have adequate water to supply the hospital, obviously. If you do not have a functioning hospital, it is not safe to come home," he said.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas says the University of Texas Medical Branch, located in Galveston, is operating on a limited basis, but can only provide urgent care. She says anyone with a health condition, like heart disease, should be aware that they are at risk if they come to the stricken city.

The economic impact of Hurricane Ike goes well beyond the several billion dollars in damage it caused. The lack of electrical power has forced many businesses to remain closed and several hundred thousand people are unable to return to work as a result.

Oil refineries located in and around Houston are operating, some with their own emergency generators. The refineries are also working with less personnel because some workers are unable to travel because of lack of gasoline for their vehicles. People all around Houston are still waiting in long lines to fuel their automobiles at the few stations that are operating.

Another important economic asset in Houston is the port and the ship channel, with its many terminals where containers are unloaded for distribution to other parts of the country. Houston's port is the second-busiest in the United States under normal conditions, but Port spokesperson Argentina James, speaking to VOA by cellular phone, says limited electrical power is also hampering operations there.

"Generally, the port operations are being impacted because we are not operating with full electrical power. We are operating in spots with electrical power, which is a coordinated effort along the channel, in terms of our terminals," she said.

James says many port workers are at the facility trying to get things up and running, but they can do little until the private power company Centerpoint re-establishes service.

"We have been communicating very much with Centerpoint and we have been making our need known to the higher levels and everybody in between. So we believe they are working on it, it is just a matter of when," she said.

James says a large portion of the products imported into the United States that are available for purchase in food stores, hardware stores and other retail outlets come through the Port of Houston.

She says this port is also vital to the energy industry.

"We are the largest petro-chemical facility in the United States, second in the world, so when we are not able to bring ships in, it has an impact," she said.

James says there are close to 100 ships in the Gulf of Mexico near Houston waiting to unload their cargo. If the port cannot open full operations soon, she says some of them may have to be diverted to other U.S. ports.