Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bush pledges swift aid to hurricane-hit Texas

* Bush arrives in Texas, will fly over Galveston

* Millions remain without power

* FEMA pledge to deliver 7.5 million meals to needy

By Tabassum Zakaria

HOUSTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush pledged swift federal aid for millions of storm-struck Texans on Tuesday as the energy hub of Houston and other areas struggle to recover from Hurricane Ike's mighty punch.

Millions of people remain without power, the battered island city of Galveston was deemed unfit for habitation and there were reports of 27 deaths nationwide from the storm that churned far inland after striking the Texas coast on Saturday.

"It's a tough situation on the coast," Bush said upon arriving in his home state. In Houston, he boarded a helicopter to view storm-damaged areas from the air.

Bush said the federal government will pay for debris removal and other recovery efforts after Hurricane Ike decimated Galveston and left millions without electricity.

Months before he leaves office, Bush is trying to rebuild his image as a disaster manager after being widely criticized for a botched relief effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed about 1,500 people in the United States.

Some 60 people were found on Monday from Orange County in Texas near the Louisiana border after being trapped in their homes, David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters traveling with Bush.

Aid efforts continued, and FEMA has pledged to deliver 7.5 million meals, 5.1 million gallons (19.8 million litres) of water and 19.2 million pounds (8.7 million kg) of ice over the next few days.

For all its strength, Ike caused minimal damage to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast. Companies are preparing to restart operations at the 14 refineries in Texas and Louisiana that remained shut by the storm, the Energy Department said.

But several offshore oil platforms were damaged in a sign that full recovery of the region's oil and natural gas production could be a long way off.

Aid was rolling in but in some of the worst-hit areas like Galveston, there was scant sign of relief work.

"FEMA ain't been by, nobody," said disabled retiree Vivian Matthews, who was stranded at her flooded apartment for two days. "They don't give a damn if we live or die."


Officials urged the few thousand people who remained in Galveston, which was without power and had little water, to leave and warned of a possible health crisis.

"We cannot accommodate people who are getting sick," said Galveston City Manager Steven LeBlanc. "You have the potential for a health crisis."

"The bottom line: Galveston cannot safely accommodate its population," he said.

Four deaths were reported by officials in Galveston -- scene of the worst U.S. weather disaster when a hurricane killed more than 8,000 people in 1900. One person was killed in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, the mayor said.

As many as 27 people were killed in several states from Ike and its remnants, CNN reported. In Arkansas, emergency officials reported one death from a felled tree.

Houston, a normally bustling center of oil and commerce and America's fourth most-populous city, was still battling to get back on its feet. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was in place.

FEMA's Paulison said 70 percent of Houston residents could have power by the end of the week, but Galveston's power grid sustained much greater damage.

As people started to return to work, gas lines with waits of two to three hours snaked through the city.

U.S. retail gasoline prices have spiked more than 15 cents since Friday to $3.84 a gallon and energy analysts said they expected nationwide gasoline inventories to fall to their lowest on record in the storm's aftermath because of the Texas refinery shutdowns.

But oil prices fell 4 percent on Tuesday on rising concern that turmoil in global financial markets will further undermine fuel demand and send investors into safer havens. (Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Mary Milliken and Doina Chiacu)

It is very bad that people don't have electricity, another problem on their head.

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