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Ike survivors line up for food in Texas

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  • NEW: Mayor says drinking water in Houston clean; boil water order lifted
  • Texas death toll from Hurricane Ike rises to at least 16 as bodies recovered
  • Thousands of meals handed out as weary Texans stand in line for hours
  • Aid groups struggle with lack of electricity, gas shortages
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HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Four days after Hurricane Ike strafed the Texas Gulf Coast and Houston region, evacuees and survivors stood in hours-long lines Wednesday in several cities to get the bare necessities.

Tired, displaced residents waited patiently in Houston, inching forward at 26 distribution locations that Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett designated.

The centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. or "until supplies run out," according to a statement from the Harris County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

White also said Wednesday that further testing of his city's water supply came back negative, so he lifted the "boil water" order that had been issued over the weekend. "The water supply for the city of Houston is safe," White said.

"I've been drinking water," the mayor added.

He also asked people standing in lines at the points-of-distribution centers, or PODs, throughout the city to not take bottled water if they have access to drinking water.

The death toll in Texas rose to at least 16 Wednesday, county officials said. The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office previously reported 10 of those deaths.

Galveston County spokesman Jim Guidry on Wednesday said at least six others were dead.

Five bodies were recovered Tuesday on the Bolivar Peninsula, he said. He did not have details on the other death. See before and after pictures of areas hit by Ike »

Dozens of deaths in other states also were blamed on Ike, which dumped torrential rains as far north as the Great Lakes while gradually losing its punch on Sunday and Monday.

The Houston Food Bank distributed 150,000 meals on Tuesday, said its executive director, Brian Greene. They included ready-to-eat meals and "family bags," with food for adults and children, he said. Volunteers also handed out water.

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"I see no reason for it to be any less than that [on Wednesday]. It'll probably be more," Greene said.

He said every distribution center was overwhelmed as soon as its doors opened Tuesday.

Two major concerns include transporting food supplies into the area and getting food to distribution points throughout the city, Greene said.

"Logistics in the city are a major problem. Electricity is out -- we have generators here [at the food bank] but most of our distribution points are without power," he said, adding that finding fuel for vehicles to take food to distribution points was "a major challenge." Video Watch how far a line stretches to buy gas »

"I'm standing here on our loading dock this morning looking at a line of volunteer vehicles and wondering how long we're going to be able to keep them going," he said.

The American Red Cross was operating 125 mobile feeding trucks "that are providing meals, comfort items, cleanup kits and more" to needy Texans, a Federal Emergency Management Agency report said.

Power is slowly being restored in the Houston region, with main electricity provider CenterPoint Energy Inc. reporting that almost 800,000 customers have service again. Immediately after Ike, more than 2.2 million people lost electricity. Not all were CenterPoint customers.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff met Wednesday with officials in Houston and Galveston about recovery efforts, the Department of Homeland Security said. He also was expected to meet with evacuees in Harris County.

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Residents who had evacuated from Galveston, the barrier island that took a direct hit from Ike on Saturday, were allowed to return briefly to their homes from the mainland Tuesday. Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas later suspended the "look and leave" program, without giving details.

On Wednesday, a line of cars stretched down Interstate 45 south toward Galveston, carrying people who either hadn't gotten the message or chose to ignore it.

Their wait was in vain, however, as police at a checkpoint before the island turned them away, CNN affiliate KHOU-TV in Houston reported.

Officials in Chambers County, where the storm leveled coastal towns, wrapped up their search and rescue operations Wednesday and began their recovery efforts, Judge Jimmy Sylvia said.

So far there have been no storm-related deaths reported in Chambers, but Sylvia said he was afraid authorities were going to find bodies.

A FEMA statement Tuesday said it and other federal agencies are supporting 280 shelter operations housing 35,000 people in Texas.

"The federal government is also supporting a transitional sheltering initiative to allow eligible Ike evacuees from Texas, who cannot return to their homes, to stay in hotels or motels until it is safe for them go home," the statement said.

Barbara Anderson, executive director for Texas Food Bank Network, said people are moving from shelters into hotels "because it could be weeks before they can get back home."

"There's not a hotel room to be found within 200 miles of Houston," she said, adding that the number of meals her organization is providing is increasing daily because "in hotels, they can't cook and they need food."

Meanwhile, the Interior Department reported Tuesday that 84.2 percent of the natural gas production and 97.2 percent of the oil production in the region remains shut down.

"Preliminary reports indicate that at least 10 offshore platforms were destroyed, and some pipelines were damaged by Hurricane Ike," the department said.

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Some 239,000 barrels of emergency exchange oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will be delivered to ConocoPhillips Co.'s Wood River refinery, the Department of Energy said Tuesday.

"The oil was requested because of disruptions in supply caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike," the department said.

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