TEXAS CITY, Texas - Search crews pulled out of Galveston on Wednesday after completing their sweep of the island for survivors of Hurricane Ike. Thousands remained on the island despite authorities' urging them to leave, and thousands more choked an interstate leading in.
A long convoy of rescue vehicles headed back to Houston past a miles-long line of cars trying to get back into coastal communities despite orders to stay out. The backlog of traffic frustrated transportation officials, who pointed out that among those idling in the choked interstate were emergency crews and trucks hauling resources badly needed on the island.
'It's not a good scenario,' said Raquelle Lewis, a Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
Lewis would not estimate the number of cars caught in the backlog, which extended miles past the first checkpoint that is 19 miles north of Galveston. Lewis pleaded with displaced Galveston residents to not waste scarcely available fuel by trying to head home.
Much of the confusion stemmed from Galveston officials' short-lived decision to allow people onto the island Tuesday to examine their property briefly and head back out. The city suspended the 'look and leave' policy because within one hour of the announcement, three lanes of vehicles stretching along 15 miles tried to get onto the island.
'We could not accommodate that many people at one time,' city manager Steve LeBlanc said. 'We were hoping to have more of a trickle of cars than a tidal wave.'
Many along the interstate were unaware that the policy had been suspended.
Carlos Azucena, 47, said he had tried three different times in the last 24 hours to get on the island. He said he waited in line for three hours before his final rejection Wednesday.
'I don't understand this. You see those other people,' Azucena said, waving at utility workers and contractors being let on to the island. 'They don't even live here, I live in Galveston.'
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff returned to Texas to check on recovery efforts amid growing criticism about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response.
In Houston, most people in the nation's fourth-largest city remained without power for a fifth day, making it tough to track the latest information on where to pick up supplies. For most, the electricity wasn't expected back on for at least another week.
Searchers in boats used sonar to sweep for debris clogging navigation routes into one of the nation's busiest ports.
The search and rescue teams of Texas Task Force 1 spent four days making door-to-door searches across the island for those who rode out the storm. Some of the people they found were evacuated while others chose to stay in their homes.