GALVESTON, Texas Rats, raw sewage and a no-excuses curfew await exiled residents who try to return to storm-wrecked Galveston Island when it reopens this week, officials warned Saturday, a week after Hurricane Ike came thundering ashore.
Ugly as the city's last week and immediate future may be, the grim predictions didn't seem to scare some of the 45,000 evacuated islanders from trying to get home, even though most of the island won't open back up until Wednesday.
Another miles-long traffic jam clogged the only highway into the city Saturday. Some ignored orders to turn around, while others resorted to deception to sneak past police guarding a roadblock.
David Culpepper met his brother Joe in Atlanta, put a phony magnetic sign on a truck to masquerade as contractors and drove down to help a third brother, Michael, who owns an antiques shop on Galveston.
Guards at the checkpoint waved Joe and David Culpepper right in.
"Not getting on this island was not an option," David Culpepper said. "We have a brother in need."
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.
Fuel and other essentials remained scarce. Some businesses were beginning to reopen, cell service was improving and electricity was coming back on.
But the strides are small, and island leaders emphasized that Galveston remained dangerous. Police will indefinitely enforce a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew once the island reopens, and parents were warned their children could be exposed to infections from storm debris and other hazards.
Planes continued spraying the island to control mosquitoes, and officials urged returnees to wear masks to protect from mold and to properly dispose of spoiled food to stave off vermin.
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.
More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast as Ike steamed across the Gulf of Mexico. State officials said more than half of some 37,000 evacuees in shelters at the height of Ike's aftermath were gone as of Saturday, and about 175 shelters remained open.