Monday, September 22, 2008

Galveston - Why They stayed?

There seem to be about 15,000 people still on Galveston Island. The numbers have shifted as to what percentage stayed. At one point I heard there were 2,000 people left on the island. A native (BOI - born on the island) thought that 80% had stayed. I talked with quite a few people before and during the hurricane. We have also been asked several times why we were in Galveston.

The morning before the hurricane came in, I talked with a man who was enjoying the sunrise at the east end of the island where I was doing sunrise photos. He had lived along the coast all his life, weathering Carla and Alicia. He and his wife evacuated for Rita. He lived in a neighborhood near the causeway and believed that his home sat high enough to be out of danger from rising water. When I talked with him he was not planning to evacuate for several reasons. First and foremost, the miserable experience he remembered from evacuating from Rita. His wife is handicapped and he felt that the evacuation would be hard on her. I mentioned that they were doing a lot better with the evacuation this time. Fuel trucks were providing fuel. We had been through Biloxi, Mississippi in the spring. I told him about the mansions that had been entirely demolished by the storm. His last comments were that he would ask his wife, and if she wanted to evacuate he would take her.

I hope he lived here:

rather than a block away here:

The area where he described where his house was was on Offut Bayou which was certainly hit hard. I find myself hoping that he and his wife did evacuate.

While waiting in line at the Subway for lunch, I overheard a young woman talk about why she wasn't evacuating. She felt that she could not afford to do so. I knew there were buses taking people who could not afford to evacuate, but I don't know why she did not consider this an option. To evacuate, you have to put gas in your car, figure out where you're going to go, where you're going to stay, and look at how much it is going to cost. If you have family in an area that is out of harm's way, then you're just looking at gas. However, you may have to find a hotel. Those get booked up fast, so you may have to drive for a long way just to find an available hotel. For lower middle income families this is a real issue. Depending upon how long they will have to stay gone, an evacuation can easily chew up 300-500 or more. Small price to pay if your home is going to be wiped out and a death trap. But if you have already weathered several storms in your location safely, then the costs of evacuation are going to be very real.

These houses behind the seawall probably had water in them, but people probably survived in houses like these. There is probably mud and silt in these homes and mildew and mold will be issues. It was difficult in many places to find a high water line. However, had Ike hit Galveston differently these houses would have had more damage from the water.

People who have already lived through hurricanes have an idea how to prepare. They fill their tubs with water. They stock up on non perishable food items and water. Some had generators ready to power their refrigerators and freezers. Their houses are well boarded up with plywood or storm shutters. Some of these hardy souls stayed behind so that they could begin the clean up immediately after the storm - minimizing the damage to their homes and businesses. Within a couple of days, they had the carpets and padding out on the street ready for trash and debris pickup. They were helping their neighbors remove trees and tree branches. They were cooking outside on their grills the food that would soon go bad without electricity. I saw men checking the historic boats in the port for damage and others inspecting some of the large historic houses. I hate to say it, but some stayed behind to protect their property from looters. We saw a few signs on garage doors: "Looters will be shot!"

I heard one lady interviewed on TV who seemed to believe that the storm would not come in. She believed that prayers would keep the storm from hitting Galveston. I have to say I do believe that God heard prayers because this storm could have done so much more damage behind the seawall. But the storm did come in, many people's homes and businesses were destroyed. The coastal areas without a seawall for protection had areas of total destruction. I hope she was in a safe place.

Some people tried to ride out the storm in places that had survived other hurricanes. The 91st street fishing pier was higher than the projected storm surge. It had survived other hurricanes. Three people "thought" this would be a safe place to take shelter.

It was a two story building, the bottom story is gone. Yes, these people survived the storm. I understand they were rescued the next morning. But I know the emergency workers had to make tough decisions during the storm. Was there a safe way to rescue these people without putting other lives at risk? I can not imagine hearing the building being ripped apart and hanging on upstairs, knowing I had made a mistake in my choice of shelters. The reports say these people were rescued the next day after the hurrincane had past. I don't think anyone died, but what an ordeal to live through.

All of the pier structures were severely damaged. The Flagship Hotel was badly damaged but survived. This fishing pier only partially survived the storm.

Some people stayed behind to do their jobs. A newspaper reporter stayed behind in her 2nd story apartment in the Strand. The story below them was flooded, but their apartment was not.

One block still looks "normal;"

A block or so over shows debris from the flood waters:

I know that some of the people who stayed behind got scared as the waters began to rise in their homes. Some were able to ride out the storm in their second floor rooms or their attics. Some had to call for help and faithfully, police and firemen risked their lives to bring these folks to safety.

City workers stayed at the San Luis to be ready to start the clean up. Firemen, policemen, paramedics and life guards stayed behind to rescue people in distress, deal with emergency issues, patrol the streets, etc. A small number of employees of hotels like the San Luis stayed behind to serve - their few guests and the police and emergency workers. Reporters and other journalists flocked to the island to report the story for the national news media. Scientists who research these cyclonic storms came to take measurements to understand these gigantic storms better.

There were many rescues the morning after the storm. Ambulances and fire trucks kept coming and going along the seawall. So far the death count is low - more people seem to have died after the storm from such things as running a generator indoors. But in the worst hit parts of the Galveston area - the West End and Point Bolivar, it is too early to know what the truth death count is. They have completed the search for survivors.

There were many reasons people stayed on the island. Some seem more valid than others. Some regretted their decision to stay and will probably choose to evacuate the next time. Some who evacuated are regretting their decision because they have not been allowed back on the island to see what happened to their home and business or to start the cleanup.

P.S. I've been reading the descriptions of the areas on the West End of Galveston Island and Bolivar Penninsula and High Island. These are areas that did not have a protective seawall to protect against the tremendous storm surge. The debris piles from Bolivar are inland and have yet to be searched for human remains. We saw the large numbers of dump trucks and front end loaders of all sizes that were headed to the West End. While I do have a better understanding of why people stay for some of these hurricanes, not all locations are equally "safe." My hope and prayer is that the final death count for Hurricane Ike does not rise dramatically from people who stayed in locations that were truly in harms way.

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