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Ike survivors forced to wait for food, water, ice and electricity

Tens of thousands of coastal Texas residents first hunkered down to wait for Hurricane Ike's brutal punch. Now they must wait again - for food, water and ice, for electricity to return to their homes, for that first hot meal and shower.

For some, the wait could be days. For others, it could be weeks.

"A good bath would be nice: have the fire department swing by and spray us down," said Carlos Silliman, 48, as he sat on a picnic bench in front of his Galveston Island home, where 18 inches (46 centimeters) of water flooded his garage and ruined a freezer full of venison. "I'm ready to have a cold beer and read the paper."

For most, such luxuries are far beyond the horizon. Many service stations have no gasoline, and some major highways remain under water. More than 30,000 evacuees are still living in nearly 300 public shelters, and roughly 2 million people in Texas alone are without power.

Ike's victims were walking for miles (kilometers) to reach distribution centers, gobbling up all that was offered: 1 million bottles of water, 1 million meals and 600,000 pounds (272,000 kilograms) of ice in just the first 36 hours after the storm passed.

It's not enough, and those dispatching trucks to distribution centers hope to quadruple the number of supply centers Tuesday. One center north of Houston drew 10,000 people Monday in search of food and water. Lines were long, but most people waited patiently.

"We'll never be empty of trucks at the staging area, and the goal is to never be empty at the points of distribution," said Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Marty Bahamonde.

Officials were also working to prevent looting and theft. Houston has issued 108 citations and arrested 33 people who violated a citywide night curfew that began Sunday, police chief Harold Hurtt said. He said the arrests included several people in a stolen car, with stolen items inside.

President George W. Bush planned to visit Houston and Galveston on Tuesday to talk with emergency officials and inspect the damage. He'll find beaches scoured clean of vacation homes, oil-slicked water and beaches with a sheen in Galveston - even burial vaults wrenched from the soggy ground by the storm's surge.

Officials on the barrier island said it could be months before the city of Galveston reopens. The main gas and a primary electric transmission line to the island were severely damaged by Ike, which also tore at the wharves in the city's port. Officials warned that mosquito-borne diseases could begin to spread after one elderly man was airlifted to a hospital covered with hundreds of bites.

"Galveston can no longer safely accommodate its population," City Manager Steve LeBlanc said. "Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for people who remain on the island."

Across the entrance to Galveston Bay on Bolivar Peninsula, a resort community where entire neighborhoods were obliterated by Ike's storm surge, only one or two buildings remained standing in the town of Gilchrist.

The town "is almost completely gone," said Aaron Reed, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Bolivar Peninsula is home to about 30,000 people during the peak summer season, but officials there said that by nightfall Monday they had found no dead. But Reed said he had spoken with residents who could not find fellow holdouts after the storm, and he feared their bodies might turn up as the waters recede.

Home designer and builder Bobby Anderson left the peninsula Monday in a pickup truck, saying Ike swept out to sea a woman who had clung with him to a building's rafters. When asked to describe their ordeal, he said "I'd really rather not."

Ike's death toll officially stood at 40 on Tuesday, with most of the deaths outside of Texas. Among those killed in the state were at least three people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after using generators.

Still, there are signs the recovery is moving forward. Houston assistant fire chief Rick Flanagan said emergency calls dropped dramatically Monday afternoon, and Mayor Bill White rescinded a mandate to boil water and said evacuees from the Clear Lake area could return home.

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