Houston's water OK to drink after Ike

Texas was still picking up the pieces after Hurricane Ike on Wednesday as states across the Midwest tallied the number of dead and injured from the mammoth storm that cut a swath of devastation across the United States, reported dpa.

Houston Mayor Bill White proclaimed his city's water safe to drink, telling reporters he had tried it and urging other Houstonians to do the same.

The bottled water being brought in by state and federal rescue officials should be reserved for people truly in need, he said.

At least four dozen people in the US were reported dead from Ike's fury after it made landfall on Saturday and moved across ten states, media reports said. The storm had already killed 80 people in the Caribbean on its way to Texas.

The dead included 17 people in Texas, which bore the brunt of the hurricane-force winds, seven people in Indiana and six in Ohio, officials in those states said.

Indiana's emergency management agency said lots of local roads were still under water, but that the worst of the damage came from high winds over the past days.

"The deaths for the most part were in the southern part of the state, from drownings," spokesman John Erickson told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa. "The wind brought down trees that killed some people."

In hard-hit Galveston, Texas, search and rescue teams had completed their work hunting for survivors, marking the start of the often-grim phase of recovering bodies.

But officials were optimistic they had ducked a bullet amidst a growing chorus of complaints by hold-outs and evacuees about the slow delivery of food, water and ice.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff flew to Texas Wednesday to handle the flak and to defend "everybody here" for "working hard."

"Those whose butts need to be kicked will feel it in their butts, but I'm not going to get into a public discussion," Chertoff told laughing reporters.

Chertoff said said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state had set up 63 points of distribution for aid, food and water.

An estimated 6,000 people who defied the mandatory evacuation order in Galveston insisted on staying as rescue workers searched the town, the Houston Chronicle reported. The National Guard and other agencies have evacuated 3,540 people from Galveston and were averaging an additional 200 to 300 evacuations a day, the newspaper said on its website.

Galveston lacks water, sewage, electricity and food, raising serious concerns about health among Texas medical officials. David Callender, president of the University of Texas Medical Branch, said the local hospital will be out of action for two up to two months.

Houston, which is 64 kilometres inland, was spared the worst of the flooding and tidal surge that wiped out entire communities on Bolivar Island and devastated much of Galveston.

But electricity in Houston was only slowly being restored, CenterPoint Energy said. By Tuesday, 1.37 million of the utility's 2.2 million customers were still in the dark, the Chronicle reported.

Current estimates put the insured losses onshore and offshore from Hurricane Ike at 7 to 12 billion dollars, the California-based Risk Management Solutions said on its website Wednesday.

That sum did not include losses to offshore oil and gas platforms, but RMS said they expected those sums would contribute a "relatively small portion" of insured losses, "since winds and waves offshore were generally within the design levels for the platforms."

Loss of oil and gas production due to pipeline supply interruptions was not considered in the total.

Most of Houston's high rise buildings and oil refineries were spared "significant flooding or other damage," RMS said.

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