By Mallory Simon
(CNN) -- Alligators loom over submerged cars. Mountains of debris are embedded in the ground. The bodies of cows, trucks and the remnants of homes lie in and out of the water. And unverified sightings of missing loved ones make the rounds.
Traci Turner says she hasn't heard from her sister Danielle Chapman or her two nephews since the storm.
1 of 2 More than 300 people are missing since Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast last month, and the obstacles to finding them are frustrating family and friends who desperately want to know if their loved ones are dead or alive.
These family and friends want answers: Why are so many still missing? Why has the first organized search for bodies, to be held Thursday on the battered Bolivar Peninsula, taken so long?
Local and state authorities are conducting Thursday's search and have been working with the Laura Recovery Center, a missing persons organization. The center helped compile a list of missing people and police are using the information to go door-to-door looking for answers.
"We are hopeful most of these people will be found, that a lot of them were evacuated to shelters or don't even know they've been listed as missing," said Bob Walcutt, executive director of the Laura Recovery Center in Friendswood, Texas. iReport.com: Are you looking for loved ones?
"We are hoping to get more answers as people call in or as school starts, but another week with this number could be a different story," he said.
As of Thursday morning, the number of missing hovered at 300, including 24 children. Laura Recovery Center volunteers, working with the Galveston Police Department and Galveston Emergency Management, have been fielding calls from family and friends of people missing since Ike hit September 12.
A majority of the missing come from the hardest-hit Texas towns of Crystal Beach, Port Bolivar, Gilchrist, Texas and Galveston.
Traci Turner of San Diego, California, doesn't know where her sister Danielle Chapman is. The last time she spoke to her was right after Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast, about a week before Ike came ashore.
At that time, Chapman said she and her family, who were on the west end of Galveston Island, were all OK.
Chapman, 32, and her sons Joel, 15, and Addison, 12, lived in a home at the far west end of island, past Jamaica Beach.
Turner said that despite arduous online searching, she has seen no news or photos about that area and has heard nothing from her sister and nephews since Hurricane Ike.
"My heart is hurting. This is my little sister, and I love her to death," Turner said.
"These are her kids. I love them to death, and they are gone. I don't want to say it -- maybe they have been washed out, maybe they haven't -- maybe they are in a shelter. Either way, they are still missing."
Adding confusion to her search,Turner said, the recovery center took her sister and nephews off the list because someone called to say he or she knew their whereabouts.
Turner hasn't been able to talk to the person who called in the tip. So without any proof that her family is still alive, she cannot rest easy.
"Not until I hear a voice or see pictures of them," she said.
Chapman and other evacuees may not have a phone number for their relatives, Turner said. There should be a main number everyone knew to call, she said, so families across the Gulf Coast wouldn't be left in the dark as to whether their loved ones are dead or just scattered across the state.
The frustration about the post-Ike recovery runs deep for Robin Huber, pastor of a church that was destroyed along with her home in Gilchrist. Huber estimates only seven homes are still standing in Gilchrist, which is surrounded by huge piles of debris. Watch Galveston residents return home »
Cars and dead animals float in the bay, she said.
The amount of debris is unfathomable, Huber said, and it was hurled with such force that residents can barely dig through it.
"Imagine that all of these homes were picked up and dropped from a high airplane," she said. "It looks like a bomb exploded here and the pieces are so stuck in the earth, it's impossible to pull out. Who knows what is in there."
Cars and trucks litter the road leading to the highway as if they were trying to escape at the last moment, Huber said.
When she was allowed back to Gilchrist after the storm, Huber swore she saw a body leaning out of a submerged car.
"Nobody could get to them, because they were still under water and because of all of the alligators in the area," she said.
Huber, like others, wants to know why officials haven't been searching for bodies.
"When there's a disaster, everyone focuses on it for a week, then everyone forgets," Huber said. "That's the problem right now. Why are there not more people out there looking for bodies?"
"I have people saying to me 'Do you know where my daddy is?' " she said. "All I can say is 'don't give up,' but now we are going on three weeks."
On Thursday, search teams will begin the first organized search in five "hot spots": debris piles across the Bolivar Peninsular, according to The Associated Press.
Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia has been asking for help from the governor's office since the hurricane hit, according to CNN affiliate KTRK-TV.
"I don't have a clue why it is taking so long. You know, it really should be Galveston County pushing, because those are Galveston County folks that would be up here in my county," Sylvia told KTRK-TV.
State Rep. Craig Eiland told KTRK-TV that the delay will be investigated.
Now, two weeks after the storm hit, the phones at the call center are steadily ringing.
Walcutt said the center and the Red Cross are continuing to crosscheck their lists.
Between calls from the public and checking with shelters, Walcutt said, 317 people have been found and taken off the list, including 51 on Wednesday alone.
The Laura Recovery Center Web site lists the names of the missing along with their towns and photos. On the site, family and friends can create their own missing person fliers and upload those photos.
The center is working with local authorities, who are in some cases going to knock on the doors of the missing, Walcutt said.
For Huber, the struggle won't end until all the answers are in.
"They say Lord won't give you more than you can handle, but right now it's getting pretty close," she said.