GALVESTON, Texas One week after Hurricane Ike tore up Galveston on its way through Houston and much of the eastern U.S., the battered barrier island began to bustle again Saturday as pockets reopened briefly and more repair crews arrived.
Most of the 45,000 who fled the island more than a week ago will be allowed to return for good Wednesday, officials said Saturday, though it could be weeks or more before basic services are restored in all areas.
Authorities cautioned that residents could find drastically different conditions depending on how their property fared.
"We have people whose homes are totally and completely destroyed, all the way to the other end of the spectrum, to where your home is perfectly fine," city manager Steve LeBlanc said.
The Jamaica Beach community began allowing residents onto the island Saturday to examine their property, then leave. That news prompted another miles-long traffic jam on the only road onto Galveston Island.
Fuel and other essentials remained in short supply, but businesses were beginning to reopen, electricity was coming back on and cell phone service was improving.
The increased activity was welcome news to evacuees, but less so to at least some of the roughly 15,000 who rode out the Category 2 storm on the island.
"To be honest, I have been comfortable these past nine days without noise, without stupid sirens," 61-year-old Leonid Elokhine said as he walked home from trying to find supplies to fix his flooded car.
Grim reminders of the storm's force accompanied the bits of good news. Cadaver dogs were to sniff through rubble and debris Sunday in Bolivar Peninsula, which suffered even heavier damage that Galveston.
Residents of Bolivar Peninsula will also start seeing their homes next week, albeit for only a quick peek. Because the main road is impassible in many spots, residents will be loaded into dump trucks and other heavy vehicles for their tour.
Authorities had blamed the storm for 26 deaths in Texas and 61 total in the U.S., including a utility contractor from Florida who was electrocuted Friday while trying to restore power in Louisville, Ky.
Power had been restored Saturday to more than half the customers in Texas whose electricity was cut by Ike, though state officials said about 1.2 million remained in the dark.
The nation's fourth-largest city continues recovering. Houston schools that have been closed since Ike are to begin reopening Tuesday, with all campuses to be open by Sept. 29.
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 but did not sustain significant damage.
In Beaumont, near the Louisiana line, authorities lifted a mandatory evacuation order Saturday that had been in effect since Sept. 11, clearing residents to return to the city of 110,000 for the first time in more than a week.
But thousands bused out of the city before Ike won't be coming back right away. Half of Beaumont is still without power, and with city water utilities and sewage running on generators, officials said they may not be ready for everyone to return.
In Tyler, where more than 2,000 southeast Texans were hauled to shelters before Ike, officials said it would likely be Monday before buses start taking evacuees back.
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.About 135,500 families had qualified for government-funded hotels, though fewer than 9,000 were checked in, said Richard Scorza, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Houston contributed to this report.