Hurricane Ike death toll climbs to five

Updated on Sep 15, 2008 09:09 AM IST

Officials in Galveston on Sunday raised to five the number of people killed in the city by Hurricane Ike, as the storm-battered US Gulf Coast continued to dry out.

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AFP | ByVirginie Montet, Galveston

Officials in Galveston on Sunday raised to five the number of people killed in the city by Hurricane Ike, as the storm-battered US Gulf Coast continued to dry out and clean up from the devastating storm.

The five reported deaths were in the weather-ravaged port city of Galveston, and officials said the toll likely would rise as clean up and recovery continued.

Simon Chabel of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told AFP that as of late Sunday, 3,743 people had been rescued throughout Texas after Ike, a Category Two storm, blew the roofs off of houses, felled trees, flooded roads, and downed and power lines when it made landfall here early Saturday.

Millions of people in the remained without power, water or sanitation Sunday, prompting officials to advise residents sheltering outside the region to stay away until conditions in the storm-battered region improved.

"Galveston has been hit hard. We have no power. We have no gas. We have no communications. We're not sure when any of that will be up and running," Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said.

"Do not come back to Galveston," she said in a plea to her city's residents. "You cannot live here at this time."

Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush said he would travel to Texas on Tuesday to witness the devastation firsthand, and promised food and water deliveries, after meeting FEMA director David Paulison in Washington.

Three US-based risk assessment firms tagged the onshore damage at anywhere between eight and 18 billion dollars (5.6-12.7 billion euros).

Officials said the much of the area was still uninhabitable, with nearly five million electricity customers still in the dark and with promised federal disaster aid not yet arrived more than 36 hours after Ike pummeled the region.

Houston Mayor Bill White on Sunday questioned why FEMA had not yet begun delivering vital food, water and ice residents of his stricken city.

"We expect FEMA to deliver those supplies and we will hold them accountable in this community." White said.

Also on Sunday officials said, at least 10 offshore oil platforms were damaged in the storm, while Houston-area oil refineries that produce 20 percent of the nation's gasoline remained shuttered and offline, causing fears to mount of an impending gasoline crunch.

Authorities warned it could be weeks before electricity was restored to some customers, prompting authorities in Houston to announce a dusk-to-dawn curfew to prevent looting and help prevent accidents on roads strewn with fallen trees and live power lines.

More than 2.2 million area residents fled inland to avoid Ike's wrath, but more than 100,000 residents of low-lying areas -- including 20,000 in Galveston -- decided to ride out the storm despite dire warnings from the national weather service.

Crude oil prices fell nearly two dollars on Sunday in New York, dipping below 100 dollars to 99.30 dollars, as traders were reassured that refineries and rigs had been spared the worst.

Gasoline prices at pump stations, however, spiked in the southeastern US and officials warned they would punish firms engaged in price-gouging.

The center of Ike when it made landfall early Saturday on Galveston Island unleashed a wall of water and ferocious winds that ripped through the country's fourth-largest city Houston.

Heavy rain overnight in Houston aggravated flooding caused by Ike and authorities advised evacuees to hold off on returning home while roads were still blocked and traffic lights out.

"We're asking people just to be patient," Federal Emergency Management Agency director David Paulison told CNN on Sunday.

"Don't be in a hurry. If you're in a safe place, whether a shelter or hotel or motel, or staying with friends and family, just stay right there," he said.

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