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