Ike Forces Historic Recovery Efforts In Texas

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Hurricane Ike delivered a tremendous beating to the Gulf area, but now Texas faces the biggest recovery effort in state history. The Rev. Rudy Rasmus and Univision correspondent Fernando Pizarro discuss how everyday people of Houston are dealing with the devastation of the storm.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, we'll talk about the financial storms hitting the economy, but first, the real storms. Hurricane Ike delivered a beating to the Texas Gulf Coast. The wind and rain are now over but now, the largest rescue operation in the state's history is under way. In Houston and other areas, storm victims face food, water and gasoline shortages, and millions of people across the state are still without power.

With us to talk about the aftermath in Houston is Reverend Rudy Rasmus. He's the pastor of St. John's Downtown Church in Houston. Also with us is Fernando Pizarro. He's in Houston reporting on the aftermath of the hurricane for Univision News. Welcome to you both.

Reverend RUDY RASMUS (St. John's Downtown Church, Houston, Texas): Hello, Michel.

Mr. FERNANDO PIZARRO (Reporter, Univision News): Hi, Michel. Nice having me here.

MARTIN: Well, I want to know how both of you are doing so. Reverend Rudy, how are you doing? Do you have power?

Rev. RASMUS: No power yet. It's been about four days, it's a - it's been really interesting. I tell you, it gets so dark in Houston without lights. It's amazing.

MARTIN: Are you able to communicate with anybody in the congregation? How are they doing?

Rev. RASMUS: It's been difficult. We have heard a lot from folk via text messaging, you know. Cell communication is still off and on, but we have really made a lot of contact with folks via the text.

MARTIN: Fernando, you've been reporting around Houston since the hurricane hit. Can you just describe, you know, what you're seeing?

Mr. PIZARRO: Well, you know, what's happening right now is that - I have to, you know, disclaim that I'm a Washington-based correspondent, and we were flown down here. But what we've seen is a city that is not yet back to normal, and I'm sure the reverend will agree with me that I had thought mistakenly that maybe things would be back to normal or a little bit by yesterday, and things are really still not back to normal when it comes to electricity, to power, which seems to be the biggest problem.

That also translates into, you know, a lack of gasoline, and long lines have been at very few gas stations that are open. They say that more stations will open today, but it's still not happening. As we drove this morning to the location very early this morning in the dark. We're here at Ripley House, which is a community center right in the middle of the east side of Houston, which is a heavily Latino area. It was pitch dark in some blocks, and you cannot possibly see the center where water and ice is going to be started to be distributed in a few minutes.

MARTIN: Now, there was some concern after there have been some sort of national disasters in other parts of the country, where people have been concerned, at least some undocumented immigrants were concerned about whether they would be able to safely seek shelter without having their status checked. And do you have any sense of whether undocumented immigrants were able to safely seek shelter, and are there any concerns about how they're being treated?

Mr. PIZARRO: Well, I have to say first that ICE, you know, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement of the DHS agency that does immigration enforcement, and as you know, they were very well known for their worksite raid lately. They did reach out to us last week, and they did say that they would basically stop all enforcement during the evacuation and sheltering stage. Whether they have determined that that evacuation and sheltering stage has ended is unknown to me at this moment.

MARTIN: You mean they reached out to you so that you could get that message out? Just to clarify, they reached out to Univision so that you and other broadcasters who are...

Mr. PIZARRO: Yes, they reached out to the Latino communities and to Latino broadcasters and to Latino media. And I know they did to English- language media as well. And we have not known of any particular incidents regarding immigration enforcement, either in Galveston or Houston - that we know of.

And the other aspect for undocumented immigrants, and we deal with FEMA on a regular basis, being based in Washington, whenever there's a natural disaster elsewhere in the country, and FEMA always states very clearly that undocumented immigrants do not qualify, I reiterate, do not qualify for federal monetary assistance. However, that said, if maybe somebody in an undocumented household is a legal resident or a U.S. citizen, be it a child or another adult, that family can claim monetary assistance from FEMA in the name of that person.

MARTIN: I see.

Mr. PIZARRO: If there's no other - undocumented - they have to be referred by FEMA to charities or other NGOs.

MARTIN: I see. Reverend Rasmus, what - talk about FEMA's efforts on behalf of those who are eligible for their aid. How - what report card do you think they're getting down there now?

Rev. RASMUS: Well, there are maybe five or six sites set up right now, and they're distributing water and some limited supplies. Seems like things are going well so far.

MARTIN: How do you get your water? Do you just show up every day, or what do you do?

Rev. RASMUS: You, actually, the lines are so long, I don't think many people would brave it every day. You get several bottles of water at one time, but the water pressure is actually returning to many communities in and around Houston, even though we still don't have power, and the mayor has put out a mandate to continue to boil water if you're going to use it for consumption.

MARTIN: Are you able to boil water if you don't have power, though?

Rev. RASMUS: Well, if you have gas.

MARTIN: If you have gas.

Rev. RASMUS: Natural gas.

MARTIN: Reverend, I also wanted to ask you about the fact that there are a number of Katrina evacuees in the Houston area, something like 100,000 people from New Orleans evacuated to the Houston area after Hurricane Katrina, and then, of course, it was Hurricane Rita, you know, that - following on that. Has - have you had any sense of whether this has been particularly traumatic for those people who have already lived through a major evacuation once?

Rev. RASMUS: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I make it a habit during these really bad weather times to touch base with the congregants that I know are from the New Orleans area, from the old - the Katrina storm. And there is a definitively heightened level of anxiety when a storm is coming in this direction. As a matter of fact, there is this really - you can imagine the terror that the folks experienced there.

And we got a chance really, Michel, to experience it the other night. That storm was terrifying, just to hear it coming through your house from every window and every door. And I've been reflecting on just what folks who experienced - who lost everything in Katrina, I can only imagine. As a matter of fact, I'm taking weather a lot more seriously these days than I was four days ago. One of my buddies here called me after the storm and said hey, Rudy, bravery is really overrated.

MARTIN: You hear that, Fernando? Bravery is overrated, OK. Well...

Mr. PIZARRO: Well, I wanted to tell you about...

MARTIN: Very briefly, 20 seconds.

Mr. PIZARRO: I think we - there are some issues here. Things are running smoothly when it comes to ice and water, but there are some problems. This morning, for instance, there's the misinformation about sites that are supposed to be open, and they're not. And people are flocking to those sites and then being told that they're not, you know, that they're not sites at all. And they're being advertised in the media and the papers, and I think that is a problem, especially now that we're waiting here for FEMA trucks to arrive late. There are some issues...

MARTIN: All right. There's - all right, something to keep an eye on. Thank you. Fernando Pizarro is in Houston. He's reporting on the aftermath of the hurricane for Univision News. He joined us by phone. We were also joined by the Reverend Rudy Rasmus. He's pastor of St. John's Downtown Church in Houston. He also joined us by phone. I thank you both so much for speaking with us, and do take care of yourselves.

Rev. RASMUS: Thank you, Michel.

Mr. PIZARRO: Thank you.

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Hurricane Ike Victims Line Up For Ice, Water, Food

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A FEMA supply distribution point in Pasadena, Texas. i

Members of the Texas National Guard distribute ice to residents of Pasadena, Texas, near Houston. Chris Graythen/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Graythen/Getty Images
A FEMA supply distribution point in Pasadena, Texas.

Members of the Texas National Guard distribute ice to residents of Pasadena, Texas, near Houston.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials opened 18 distribution sites in the Houston area on Monday, after delays in arriving. Over the next three days, they plan to give out 7.5 million meals, nearly 20 million liters of water and 19.2 million pounds of ice.

At one distribution point, Harvest Time Church in Houston, people began arriving before daybreak. Throughout the day, thousands of hungry and thirsty people arrived by car and by foot, waiting hours in lines that stretched for miles and snarled traffic.

Carrying three boxes of the military-style meals, Vivian Greenaugh said she hadn't eaten like this since her 21 years in the Navy, including her last tour of duty in Iraq. Her rations included cereal, fruit cups, granola bars, crackers, pudding and beef stew.

"Even though it's a long line, I just appreciate the help, because it could've been worse, and it could've took longer," Greenaugh said.

Like everyone at the church, Greenaugh has been without power for days, and all the food in her refrigerator has gone bad. Some people said they had to throw out hundreds of dollars of frozen meats from their freezers.

Claudette Maxwell, whose daily dosages of insulin require refrigeration, was unsure if her two bags of ice would be enough.

"I may need like three [bags]," she said. "I'm just worried about my kids eating, more than me. If it's just that bad I'll go to the emergency room, I guess."

Maxwell and her neighbor, Audrey Jefferson, said that in addition to dealing with the uprooted trees and flooded streets, it is difficult to find groceries. The stores are nearly empty, they are accepting only cash, and finding gasoline to get there is a challenge.

"The only place we could get paper towels and marshmallows and crackers yesterday was at Target," Jefferson said. "And it was wiped out. It was all gone."

Sheronica Smith and her husband stood in line for hours with their hungry babies. Smith said that they have approximately $17 between them.

"That's it, that's all we have," she said. "I don't know [what to do]. Keep praying."

Smith also said that she and her husband would be back at the church again on Tuesday.

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