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Texas Begins Arduous Recovery From Hurricane Ike

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and other federal officials toured Galveston, Houston and other areas of Texas ravaged by Hurricane Ike when it made landfall Saturday. Chertoff says the first priority is to help people stranded by the storm and others in dire need of assistance. But as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, officials are requesting federal help to get the local economy back up and running.

Galveston Island and other coastal areas took the brunt of Hurricane Ike and many areas look like war zones, with collapsed houses and buildings, flooded neighborhoods, and downed trees and power lines. As bad as it was, however, many officials say it could have been far worse had the storm stalled over the region or grown stronger than a Category 2 hurricane.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says people in the Houston-Galveston area responded well to the disaster.

"Hurricane Ike threw us a hard punch, but it did not dent our spirit," he said.

Still, the governor is clearly worried about the road ahead. He says refineries and other important energy infrastructure came through the storm. But the shutdown of many facilities and oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico is already having an effect on fuel prices nationwide.

The hurricane's high winds buffeted a huge area hundreds-of-kilometers inland.

The storm blew out windows in tall office buildings in downtown Houston and left millions of people across the region without electrical power.

There are long lines at the gas stations that have fuel and generators to power the pumps. Most people are seeking gasoline for their own portable generators, which they are using to run refrigerators and lights. But if businesses and offices remain closed, the economic impact of Ike will rise dramatically.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says the federal government needs to do everything possible to help because this is not just a problem for his state.

"Here is what I want the people of America to understand - Texas has one of the, if not the most vibrant economy in America today. And at the heart of that was southeast Texas with Houston at the epicenter of that," he said. "So it is abundantly important that Americans give every support that they can to this reconstruction effort, to this recovery effort, because the future of America depends on a state like Texas and a city like Houston to get back on its feet as fast as we can."

Governor Perry hailed the pre-storm evacuation process in which hundreds-of-thousands of people left Galveston and other coastal areas in an orderly fashion days before the storm. As for the few thousand people who insisted on staying behind, he called them "hard-headed".

One of those who remained was Jacqueline Harris, who spoke to local television station KHOU.

"We must have been out of our ever-loving minds to stay for it. But it takes a certain type of person to live on the island [ Galveston] and this is our home," she said. "If nothing else, the people who stayed behind can help people rebuild, to help others who have nothing. We are sharing water, we are sharing our toiletries, we are sharing coffee."

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and many local government entities are engaged in search and rescue operations in the worst effected areas and are providing ice, drinking water and food to people in need.

Thousands of people with special needs or damaged homes have gone to shelters. But most are staying in their homes, waiting for essential services to be restored - something that may take several weeks in some areas.