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Lack of Electrical Power Hampers Texas Recovery from Hurricane Ike

Rescue operations continue in coastal areas of Texas struck hard by Hurricane Ike over the weekend. Officials say it could be a month before residents can return home to some of the hardest hit areas like Galveston Island. VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston that much of the area remains crippled by a lack of electrical power.

Chain saws are buzzing all over the Houston area as residents clear downed trees and branches from their property. The same high winds that damaged trees also knocked out electrical power from southwestern Louisiana to communities north and west of Houston. Some two million people are without electricity.

Many people are using portable gasoline-powered generators to keep their refrigerators going so food won't spoil and to have some light at night. But gasoline is hard to find and some people burn up the little gas they have driving around looking for more.

Sylvia, a resident of Spring, Texas, just north of Houston, says she waited in line at one of the few stations that has gasoline to sell.

"I have been waiting here for about two hours to get some gas for my generator for my home," said Sylvia. "I know a guy who is in line to get gas for his truck. He was in line for four hours. This is the only place I know that is open right now in this immediate area."

The lack of power is more than an inconvenience. It could have dire economic consequences as offices and businesses remain closed and many people are out of work. Texas Governor Rick Perry is urging federal officials to do more to help get his state powered up.

"That is the key to recovery, getting power back - whether into the cities, into the hospitals, into the refineries, into the places where people can get back to work," said Governor Perry.

The Texas Director of Homeland Security, Steve McGraw, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with other federal agencies, is helping to install generators in key areas.

"Right now, 40 are en route or have been set up already, nine installed," said Steve McGraw. "And we have a outstanding request for 172 generators because the secondary impact of the storm is that when power goes out, they don't have generators at these hospitals, homes or, by the way, water and, certainly, waste treatment plants. You need to get power back to it and we are working that issue right now."

Most of the area without power is serviced by the private company, Entergy. A spokesman for the company says thousands of workers from other states are coming to Texas to help restore service after what the company describes as "a catastrophic failure" of the system.

Restoring power is also essential before people who took refuge in other cities can return. Hundreds of thousands of people from Galveston and other coastal areas hard hit by Hurricane Ike's storm surge may have to wait up to four months before officials can determine that it is safe to return.

Some areas of Houston - the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the United States - are coming back to life, including some parts of downtown district. Some streets are still flooded, but there is electrical power and some businesses are resuming limited operations. Administrative offices for the city and Harris County are also open, but court sessions are suspended for the time being. City officials say water operations have been restored and that there is no sign of contamination of drinking water.