Some returned to find homes in ruins.
Traffic was backed up for 10 miles on the one major highway leading into Galveston, but things appeared to go smoothly once the city of about 57,000 started letting people in about 6 a.m. Many people had been waiting in their cars along Interstate 45 since before dawn.
Police officers were stationed to direct traffic at major intersections where signal lights were ripped away by the hurricane's 110-mph wind and 12-foot storm surge on Sept. 13.
Ruben Rosas, 74, one of those who had fled inland to San Antonio, joined the line on I-45 at about 3 a.m. Once he reached his first-floor apartment located on a bayou, he found that the walls and nearly all his possessions were gone. He did find a large cross that had been on his father's coffin and a small "King of Dads" statue his kids gave him when they were young.
"This is just sad, but the good thing is, I'm still around," Rosas said. "I can recuperate these things sooner or later."