Recovery teams working with trained cadaver dogs identified five "hot spots" Wednesday on the Bolivar Peninsula where they believe people may be dead and buried beneath the sand and wreckage on Crystal Beach.
Authorities said the rivers of debris that snake through Crystal Beach likely conceal the remains of some of the 50 people who remain missing from the area after Hurricane Ike.
Crystal Beach Volunteer Fire Chief David Loop said he has been promised long-awaited reinforcements today from state search and rescue experts as well as trained dog teams from across Texas to assist in the grueling task ahead.
"For some reason they have been slow — we push and we push and we push as hard as we can. The sooner we can get closure the better," he said Wednesday. "My main concern is to make sure we do everything possible and make every effort we can to have a good, clean recovery."
Loop, who up until now has led the recovery effort with a handful of volunteers who lost their own homes, said he is beginning to accept the grim reality that dozens of people he knew likely perished.
Loop is headquartered for now in the heavily damaged Crystal Beach VFD, only a few blocks from where several potential body sites were identified amid the remains of beach houses, family heirlooms and other debris by volunteers from the Special K-9s Search and Recovery Team. Its members have come from across the Houston area to help in the search.
They are using GPS and flags to mark spots that will be searched when additional manpower arrives today, Loop said.
As one family surveyed its storm-damaged home Wednesday, searchers quietly flagged two sites in a large debris pile next door. Trained dogs — Belle, Ben and Sonny — all scented possible human remains on two sides of what appeared to be collapsed homes just one block inland from Texas Highway 87 in Crystal Beach.
Today, dogs and searchers also will begin looking offshore among even larger and more remote piles of debris on uninhabited Goat Island, where at least one Bolivar Peninsula storm victim's body was found.
Too late for some
The expanded efforts have come too late to satisfy Raul "Roy" Arrambide, who has three missing relatives.
"I really don't have any confidence with the way this is being done," said Arrambide, a Dallas-area contractor whose relatives disappeared while trying to evacuate Sept. 12. ''I could have done better with my laptop on my kitchen table."
He will make his third pilgrimage to the peninsula today to try to find out what happened to his mother, Marion Violet Arrambide, 79; his sister, Magdalena Strickland; and his nephew, Shane Williams. All three disappeared when they attempted to evacuate from a beach house in Port Bolivar.
The vehicles his relatives were driving as they tried to evacuate — a car and a pickup — were found over the weekend by a High Island contractor, Billy Flannigan, who volunteered to help. Flannigan found both vehicles near the Rollover Bridge and both appeared to have been washed off the road.
The Ford Taurus sat mired in sand nearly up to its steering wheel. The pickup was 100 yards off the road in a grove of salt cedars. There were no signs of bodies or survivors.
Experts from Texas Task Force One had been assisting in the search for survivors, but left just a cou
The Special K-9s Search and Recovery Team, led by Ja'Na Bickel of The Woodlands, came to Crystal Beach on Monday after more than a week of conducting searches elsewhere in Galveston County. The team, which participated in searches after Hurricane Katrina, was surprised by the lack of resources for such a challenging, if not impossible job.
"In Katrina terms, it's not that many people. But for these people here, it's everything. Their culture is all gone. There's nothing left," said Paul McDowell, a Willis-based searcher who brought his German shepherd, Ben, to help out.
That team is expected to finish on Crystal Beach today and move on to the uninhabited Goat Island, which lies just across the Intracoastal Waterway from the Bolivar Peninsula. Huge debris piles there and in other remote mosquito- and snake-ridden marshlands — including roadless sections of swamp in Chambers County — will complicate the searches.
"It's going to take more time and manpower to go sifting through all the debris," said Galveston County Medical Examiner Stephen Pustilnik. "All that stuff has to be overturned and sifted through and taken to a place where it can be spread out and looked at."
Tim Flannigan, who lost his home in Gilchrist, sees only eerie piles and vacant lots where some of the missing once lived.
"Those piles will never be cleaned up, these people are too poor," he said. "But at least we'd like to know what the count (of the dead) is. It's really a long time since the storm not to know anything."