GALVESTON, Texas - There's a grocery store open for business on Galveston Island. Cell phone towers are connecting calls. More lights are coming back on at night.
But for all the little signs of recovery in this barrier island community thrashed by Hurricane Ike nearly a week ago, Galveston just 'isn't ready' for residents to return. Not even for a quick look around at their battered homes and businesses, officials said Thursday as they pleaded for tens of thousands to wait at least another week before trying to come home.
'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.
The roughly 45,000 people who fled Galveston Island are among the more than 1 million who evacuated the Texas coast as Ike steamed across the Gulf of Mexico. Gov. Rick Perry said 22,000 people are still living in more than 200 shelters, and he joined Thomas on Thursday in asking for patience.
'I absolutely understand they want to get back to their homes ... I'd like to get back to the mansion,' said Perry, who's been living in temporary quarters since his official residence burned down in June.
Galveston Island remained closed, as did the worse-off Bolivar Peninsula, where the storm's surge washed entire neighborhoods into the sea. Search teams pulled out of both areas this week after sweeping every house, authorities said.
To the northwest, life took more steps toward normal in Houston, where traffic picked up on the downtown streets less than a week after the massive Category 2 storm blew through. Flight control of the International Space Station was to return today to the Johnson Space Center, which shut down a few days before Ike's strike.
CenterPoint Energy said it had restored power to nearly 900,000 homes, and the utility was fast approaching the point where more people in the nation's fourth-largest city would be with electricity than without.
The Interior Department said Thursday that Ike destroyed at least 49 of the more than 3,800 offshore oil or natural gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and some may not be rebuilt. The damaged platforms accounted for 13,000 barrels of oil and 84 million cubic feet of natural gas a day; the Gulf produces about 1.3 million barrels of oil a day and 7 billion cubic feet of gas.
To help ease the recovery in Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urged private mortgage lenders Thursday to cut some slack to financially strapped homeowners. The Housing Department had earlier issued a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures on FHA loans, a reprieve for about 7,000 homeowners who were in foreclosure or on the cusp.
'A lot of times, after a disaster, people come back, they have expenses they didn't count on,' HUD Secretary Steve Preston said as he stood alongside Chertoff.