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GALVESTON, Texas — Rescuers flew into a hard-to-reach area of the swamped Gulf Coast Monday and uncovered a devastated landscape: Hurricane Ike had swamped entire subdivisons, and emergency crews feared they would find more victims than survivors.
It was the first time anyone had gotten a look at the damaged resort barrier island of Bolivar Peninusla, just east of hard-hit Galveston. Homes were splintered or completely washed away in the beachfront community that is home to about 30,000 people in the peak summer season.
"They had a lot of devastation over there," task force leader Chuck Jones said. "It took a direct hit."
Jones did not have information on whether anyone had died on the island, mainly because leaders still don't know how many people stayed through the storm that struck early Saturday.
Of particular concern is a resident who collects exotic animals who is now holed up in a Baptist church with his pet lion. "We're not going in there," Jones said. "We know where he (the lion) is on the food chain."
Two days after Ike battered Houston and forced thousands into emergency shelters, the death toll rose to 30 in eight states, many of them far to the north of the Gulf Coast as the storm slogged across the nation's midsection, leaving a trail of flooding and destruction.
Houston, littered with glass from skyscrapers, was placed under a weeklong curfew and millions of people in the storm's path remained in the dark. In Galveston, city officials warned people to stay away from beaches because oil appeared to be floating on the water.
Rescuers said they had saved nearly 2,000 people from waterlogged streets and splintered houses by Sunday afternoon. Many had ignored evacuation orders and tried to ride out the storm. Now they were boarding buses for indefinite stays at shelters in San Antonio and Austin.
Brian Smith, public information officer from the Urban Search and Rescue Division of the Texas Engineering Extension Service, said that search and rescue missions continued across the affected area, although no air rescues had been needed since Sunday morning.
"Operations are ongoing," Smith said. "They will continue until we've heard from every local incident commander and been assured by them that search and rescue missions are no longer needed."
In hard-hit towns like Orange, Bridge City and Galveston, authorities searched door-to-door into the night, hoping to reach an untold number of people still in their homes, many without power or supplies.
A line of at least 30 cars formed early Monday at a strip mall in Orange, a Texas town on the Louisiana state line east of Beaumont, a day after food and water were distributed there by the National Guard. But the line dispersed after state troopers told the gathering that supplies would be passed out elsewhere.
Wanda Hamor, 49, of Orange, had been fifth in line with her 21-year-old son William. They were trapped in their house by floodwaters until Monday morning before they could venture out.
They had run out of food Sunday night. They left for Gustav and say they couldn't afford to leave for Ike or buy any more than $60 in food.
"He's diabetic and he has to eat four times a day," she said of her son.
Many of those who did make it to safety boarded buses without knowing where they were going or when they could return to what might remain of their homes. Shelters across Texas scurried to find enough cots, and some evacuees arrived with little cash and no idea of what the coming days held.
In Houston, tensions were rising among more than 1,000 who had spent several nights at the George R. Brown Convention Center because most of the city is still without power. They complained that they couldn't get information about how to get food and clean clothes. The city's mayor said only 1,300 people were inside, but those sleeping on cots said it felt like thousands.
Lines snaked down side streets at gas stations that had little fuel to sell. Some looked like parking lots. At sites distributing water, ice and prepackaged meals, people stood on foot for hours waiting for anything they could take home.
Michael Stevenson, 37, had wandered from shelter to shelter since the storm struck before ending up at the convention center. At one shelter, he said, he barely ate.
"They give you a little cup of water every four hours. They feed us one peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We were in there for about 18 hours before we could go outside and get some air," he said.
Even for those who still have a home to go to, Ike's 110 mph winds and battering waves left thousands in coastal areas without electricity, gas and basic communications, and officials estimated it may not be restored for a month.
"We want our citizens to stay where they are," said a weary Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. "Do not come back to Galveston. You cannot live here at this time."
Michael Geml has braved other storms in his bayfront neighborhood in Galveston, where he's lived for 25 years, though none quite like Ike. The 51-year-old stayed in the third-story Jacuzzi of a neighbor's house, directly on the bay, with family pets as waves crashed across the landscape.
"I'll never stay again," Geml said. "I don't care what the weatherman says; a Category 1, a Category 2. I thought I was going to die."
The hurricane also battered the heart of the U.S. oil industry as Ike destroyed at least 10 production platforms, officials said. Details about the size and production capacity of the destroyed platforms were not immediately available, but the damage was to only a fraction of the 3,800 platforms in the Gulf. It was too soon to know how seriously it would affect oil and gas prices.
President Bush made plans to visit the area on Tuesday. He said getting power restored is an extremely high priority and urged power companies to "please recruit out-of-state people to come and help you do this."
Ike was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved north. Roads were closed in Kentucky because of high winds. As far north as Chicago, dozens of people in a suburb had to be evacuated by boat. Two million people were without power in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Of the 30 dead, five were in Galveston, including one body found in a vehicle submerged in floodwater at the airport. There were two other deaths in Texas and six in Louisiana, including a 16-year-old boy trapped in rising floodwaters. Several were farther inland.
Two golfers died when a tree fell on them in Tennessee. There were six deaths in Indiana; three died in Missouri. One person died in Arkansas and three in Ohio, including two motorcyclists killed when a tree toppled on them at a state park. But the toll still paled in comparison to what Ike did elsewhere before arriving: The storm claimed more than 80 lives in the Caribbean before reaching the U.S.
There was another casualty of the storm, though. At the Hollywood Cemetry on Orange, dozens of cement vaults popped up out of the water-swollen ground, many disgorging their coffins. Several came to rest against a chain link fence, choked with garbage and trinkets left behind by mourners.
George Levias shook his head when he discovered the graves of his mother-in-law and best friend open. He recognized the casket of co-worker Leonard Locks by its ceramic floral handles.
"I just don't know what to say," the 75-year-old Levias said as he walked gingerly among open graves filled with water. "Loved ones being disturbed like that."