It struck one year ago and did so with an angry, vicious severity. Bolivar Peninsula and the communities of Crystal Beach and Gilcrhist took direct hits and for the most part ,were wiped off the face of the Earth.
Here’s a before and after photo of the area.
There’s little left.
One year later, the view hasn’t changed much. The entire Bolivar Peninsula remains shell shocked.
Galveston fared slightly better, but it looked as though large bites had been taken out of the city scape.
Ike killed 195 people. As of this writing, 26 bodies have never been found. Nor will they ever be found. The ferocity of water is mind boggling. When when it recedes to its watery depths, it takes everything with it. It makes no discernment. Bodies are as much random flotsam as wood debris.
I wrote a piece called “The Calm Before” one year ago. I’m republishing it here.. Sure, I could’ve written something fresh, but I didn’t. I don’t have the bandwidth right now. You see, in between commemorating the eighth anniversary of 9/11 and the first anniversary of Ike’s making landfall, I’m just too exhausted. I’m spent.
But before I go fetal for the next few days, I will say this much for my fellow Southeast Texans: we are a tenacious lot. We picked ourselves up by the bootstraps. We demonstrated exemplary resolve in how we rectified what nature hath wrought. We took care of ourselves and our own; just like the communities of Pass Christian and Biloxi did after Katrina. They survived and thrived, even in the shadow of New Orleans, which got all the press.
Granted, the damage was different. What happened in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward would never have happened in Houston. Our founding fathers and municipal architects had the sense not to situate the city beneath sea level between the Gulf and a huge lake, then surround it by a levee system that always been inadequate at best.
So, I won’t tolerate hearing any arguements that New Orleans had it worse. Try telling that to a delerious woman who watched her husband, child and home be swept to sea in the churning surge when Ike made landfall at Crystal Beach one year ago. When it comes to loss of life and abject destruction, weighing apples and oranges is irrelevant.
It’s also asinine.
We recovered and we did it without Sean Penn going door to door supplying water to the thirsty, unwashed masses. Sandra Bullock didn’t write a huge check at the insistence of her handlers. There were no telethons, no benefit concerts. Brad and Angelina failed to adopt a child that survived the storm.
We applied for natural disaster assistance, but what FEMA couldn’t or wouldn’t do, we did ourselves.
We “helped ourselves” and it wasn’t via a broken window at a darkened department store downtown. There were only a few cases of looting; you could count them on one hand AND I’m extremely proud to report that not 0ne uniformed Houston Police Officer was seen taking a big screen TV or a pair of high priced sneakers from the premises.
Mozol Houston and Southeast Texas. You did yourselves proud. A nation could learn a thing or two from us about responsiveness.
And personal responsibilty.
THE CALM BEFORE (original posting 9/12/08)
Eight days ago, I watched news accounts of how a massive hurricane named Ike ravaged the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The storm ate those islands. Literally ate them. It left devastation, death and misery in its wake and somehow, even then—as it churned 19-hundred miles away from Houston, I knew it had us in its cross hairs.
How? I don’t know. I’m not psychic. I don’t possess any special gifts, just gut feelings and this one was unflinching; damned near palpable.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my thinking.
Even though the storm was more than 600 miles away, I gassed up and got water and other essential items Tuesday night. At the grocery store, I pushed my cart up and down uncrowded and well-stocked aisles and I’d pass the occasional shoppers, who like me, probably had the same feeling I had. I knew who they were because they shopped in pairs and had this determined look on their faces–not fear, but serious concern. When shopping before an impending disaster, you do so with much determination. Captain Crunch isn’t on your mind; neither is the amount of Riboflavin in Wheat Thins–survival is.
I heard shoppers pose questions to each other in hushed tones, “Do we have enough batteries?”
“You get matches and I’ll get water. How much should I get?”
“If we have to get canned goods, please don’t get any Dinty Moore stew! I hate that shit!”
Ordinarily, that would’ve made me laugh. I’m decidedly not a Dinty Moore fan either, but that night, it didn’t matter.
The next morning, the forecasters had Ike heading for the lower Texas Gulf Coast. I remember thinking, “Oh great!! Geraldo Rivera and his Camera Crew of Doom will be arriving in Corpus Christi!!”
I don’t like Geraldo. Where ever that walking harbinger of sensationalized gloom goes, the situation can’t be good. His presence means a whole helluva lot of ugly is heading straight for you.. Still, I got the feeling that Fox News should hold off on making Geraldo’s flight reservations. He’d only be wasting his time in Corpus; he should be heading north–not that I wanted Geraldo in Houston. Talk about hubris!
I l felt quite certain that Ike was coming to Houston. It was a feeling I couldn’t shake.
By Wednesday afternoon, mandatory reservations were ordered for low lying areas in and around Corpus Christi.
I still felt that the National Weather Service was wasting their time with frivolous announcements like this. I told my co-workers as much. They laughed at me; accused me of being a reactionary and unnecessarily nervous. I had one woman defiantly tell me that Ike WAS NOT coming to Houston.
I became extremely frustrated by the cavalier attitude that permeated the radio station. They wouldn’t listen to me and really, why should they? Who was I? I was jus a lowly comedy writer. I couldn’t make them evacuate 72 hours out of Ike’s making landfall based on a hunch.
But I knew in my gut what I was feeling wasn’t a hunch.
It was so strong and carried with it so much urgency that I went home; packed what I could, crammed my Calico, Charlotte in her carrier and at 7:48 pm took one last look at everything I owned; shut the door, locked it and headed west–to the Texas Hill Country, some 260 miles inland from Houston.
I assure you, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But I did it, like countless other people who live along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts have done; like those who live in fire prone areas in California—you turn your back on everything you own; all you have; all you’ve worked for. You leave because you know you can’t stay, yet you have no idea if you’ll have any of it if you return.
If you even can return.
Uncertainty is evil.
So, here I sit at my sister’s desk and I cannot quell my fear. You see, I’m a native Texan–I grew up in a small town 65 miles due west of Port Aransas, right on the Gulf of Mexico. I survived hurricanes Carla, Beulah and Celia. I covered Hurricane Rita.
But this storm is different; it’s always felt different. And then I watch The Weather Channel and I see that Galveston is already flooding and huge waves are crashing over its legendary Seawall (built after the 1900 storm, thes worst hurricane to ever make landfall in the US) which is 17 feet in height. Forecasters say a 20 to 25 foot storm surge is possible and could even a whopping0 to 35 feet tall? The tsunami waves which pummeled Malaysia weren’t that large.
My God, how bad is it going to be when Ike makes landfall, some 13 hours away as I type this?
And what about Houston, which lies 50 miles from Galveston? I’m incredibly uneasy about its impact on the nation’s fourth largest city. We’re talking a population of right at six million people in the Greater Houston area, not to mention it’s the hub of the petrochemical industry for North America and beyond. The Port of Houston is one of the largest in the world, NASA’s Johnson Space Center is here and then, there’s the world-famous Texas Medical Center which is home to the renown M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where kings and queens, celebs, sheiks and imperators from around globe come for treatment.
In addition to that, I worry about menacing problems that exist in the aftermath–the lack of any semblance of infrastructure, lawless anarchy and incredible loss—the kind that runs the gamut. These are problems that are directly and indirectly associated with fierce winds, heavy rain and a possibly mammoth storm surge that forecaster’s say we mere mortals may be completely incapable of handling.
Thursday night, some talking head with FEMA and the National Weather Service warned people who live in the outer banks of Galveston and the immediate area (Houston lies 45 miles inland, by the way) that if they lived in a one to two story dwelling and chose to stay to ride out the storm, they’d be facing “certain death”.
My God!! I have never in my entire life, heard any government official say that.
I can’t even begin to tell you how that made me feel. My heart sank.
But as frightening and ominous as that was; nothing sent shivers up my spine in a foreboding quiver than the news I received a short time later.
A friend called to tell me that he’d heard Geraldo Rivera had just arrived in Houston.
God help us all.
God help us all.