Houston gradually comes back online after Ike

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GALVESTON, Texas Hurricane Ike’s death toll kept creeping higher Friday, a week after the storm’s winds arrived, though there were signs of progress on Galveston Island and back on the mainland.

GALVESTON, Texas     Hurricane Ike’s death toll kept creeping higher Friday, a week after the storm’s winds arrived, though there were signs of progress on Galveston Island and back on the mainland. A lone pump was back on at a gas station about two blocks behind the Galveston seawall. Cell phone service was mostly restored, and power was gradually coming back on. More than half of Houston still didn’t have electricity though, and authorities said it would be well into next week before residents could return to Galveston, even for just a brief look at what the storm did to their property. One of the biggest obstacles to reopening the island was its crippled water system. More water is flowing out of the city’s pipes than is flowing in. "Our water system is bleeding," said Steve LeBlanc, the city manager. About 45,000 of the barrier island’s 57,000 residents heeded orders to flee. Officials pleaded with evacuees to sit tight to give workers time to stabilize basic services. "By staying away and being patient, you are making it possible for us to get you home in a week or so, instead of the months it would take if the city’s infrastructure were more overwhelmed at this point," Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. Authorities have long since finished searching for bodies on Galveston Island and the worse-off Bolivar Peninsula, though they cautioned more could be found. Authorities had blamed 57 deaths in the U.S. on Ike, 23 of them in Texas, including a woman killed during the storm when a tree struck her house in Huntsville, 65 miles north of Houston. Though 1.5 million customers remained without power statewide, nearly 1 million customers in the Houston area had electricity restored, and life looked increasingly normal in the nation’s fourth-largest city. More stores were open, and police reopened downtown streets that they had blocked off after the storm blew out skyscraper windows. NASA said Friday that flight control of the International Space Station was returning to the Johnson Space Center, which shut down a few days before Ike’s strike. More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast as Ike steamed across the Gulf of Mexico. Gov. Rick Perry said 20,500 people were still staying in 190 shelters Friday. The federal relief effort has delivered hundreds of trucks of ice, water and food to more than 5 million people in the region. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had handed out 2.5 million liters of water, 2 million meals and 100,000 tarps. Among those accepting a hand was Cheryl Harwell, who holed up in an empty hotel as Ike devastated the Bolivar Peninsula community of Crystal Beach. She ignored a mandatory evacuation order six days ago and suggested she wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. "I got everything I need here," said Harwell, 50, as she sat on the hotel’s second-floor balcony with her husband and a friend. Destruction surrounded them, but their second-floor abode was dry and tidy, complete with clean linen, bottled water and beer. "We’re happy here," said Harwell’s husband, Armando Briones. "We’ve got plenty of cigarettes and plenty of food." If they need something, they simply flag down the National Guard, which has been making daily checks. Associated Press writers Chris Duncan and Paul J. Weber in Houston contributed to this report. AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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