Bush pledges swift aid to hurricane-hit Texas

United States President George Bush pledged swift federal aid for millions of storm-struck Texans on Tuesday as the energy hub of Houston and other areas struggled to recover from Hurricane Ike’s mighty punch.

Millions of people remained 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 criticised for a botched relief effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed about 1 500 people in the US.

About 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 (Fema), told reporters travelling with Bush.

Aid efforts continued, and Fema has pledged to deliver 7,5-million meals, 19,8-million litres of water and 8,7-million kilograms of ice over the next few days.

For all its strength, Ike caused minimal damage to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast. Companies were 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.”

Rising death toll
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.” He added: “The bottom line: Galveston cannot safely accommodate its population.”

Four deaths were reported by officials in Galveston—scene of the worst US 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 centre of oil and commerce and the US’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% of Houston residents could have power by the end of the week, but Galveston’s power grid had sustained much greater damage.

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

US retail petrol prices have spiked more than 15 cents since Friday to $3,84 a gallon and energy analysts said they expect nationwide petrol inventories to fall to their lowest on record in the storm’s aftermath because of the Texas refinery shutdowns.

But oil prices fell by 4% on Tuesday on rising concern that turmoil in global financial markets will further undermine fuel demand and send investors into safer havens.—Reuters

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