GALVESTON (BP)—Three weeks after Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston Island, residents are just now in the beginning stages of cleanup.
On Pine Street, most residents have moved their water-soaked belongings out to the curb waiting for dump trucks to carry everything away. Furniture and appliances along with books, photos and knickknacks once lovingly placed on shelves and tables will be taken to a landfill.
Mary Meade was gingerly picking through her personal belongings for anything that might be salvaged as the trucks made their way down the street.
“The people who helped move my stuff out of the house weren’t careful about separating out the things that could be saved,” Meade said, picking through a priceless collection of Beatles memorabilia. “Some of this could have been saved, but now most of it’s broken.
Pile of debris
“I had 50 years’ worth of stuff in my house, and now it’s all sitting in the street,” Meade said, waving a glove-covered hand at the pile of debris behind her.
Meade and her sister evacuated to Trinity before Ike’s Sept. 13 landfall. “My sister wanted to stay, but I begged her to leave.” Their brother Robert stayed behind to ride out the storm. Water from the surge filled his house within an hour.
“He had to start swimming as the waters rose almost to the ceiling of his house,” Meade said. “His dog, Sir Guy, was in the garage swimming for his life. Thank goodness Robert was able to save him. Robert and Sir stayed in the attic without food or water for three or four days after the storm.” They finally were rescued by the National Guard.
Having lived her life on the island, Meade said she’s wanted to leave for several years. “Maybe now I can convince my brother and sister to move.”
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Meade went back to her futile search as workers with their claw-like machines began filling trucks with debris just a few doors down.
“Galveston will come back,” said Randall Dowdell, a surfer met riding along the sea wall on his bike. Dowdell moved to Galveston only eight weeks prior to Ike. He rode out the storm in the cab of his truck and is lucky to be alive. “The winds were really strong, the pressure blew out the windows,” he said.
“This was the happiest place of my childhood and that of my children. We vacationed here a lot,” Dowdell said, pointing to the sun-bathed beach now dotted with warning signs. “It may take a while, but the island will come back from this.”
Resilience and optimism
Dowdell’s optimism is just a microcosm of the resilience found in many Galveston residents.
Bill and Karen Fullen have lived in the historic Strand District of downtown for 10 years. Their loft didn’t suffer much damage, but they are still without power. The view from their apartment was once that of a thriving downtown. Now they see a different kind of activity—business owners diligently cleaning up from the storm and beginning to rebuild.
Bill and his son own a local restaurant called the Waterwall. They hope to be back up and running soon. In the meantime, the Fullens are helping their son and his wife clean up their house from extensive water damage.
“It’s amazing how much help we’ve received from the churches and organizations like the Salvation Army and Red Cross,” Karen Fullen said. “They’ve been bringing food and cleanup kits into the neighborhoods.”
Along with residents and businesses, local churches also are dealing with water damage.
Water damage in churches
Members of First Baptist Church in Galveston already have ripped out the burgundy carpet in their 51-year-old sanctuary. They’ve stripped out the drywall in the fellowship hall where they teach classes for English as a second language.
“We’ve got a lot to do to get it back,” said Ray Meador, the church’s pastor of three years. “The water flooded our equipment room, so we’ve lost our chillers and all of our electric.
“You just can’t get your mind around it,” Meador said. “Most of our members are fine. They have damage to their homes, but most are OK. We have one lady we haven’t heard from yet. I don’t know yet if she evacuated.”
It’s difficult to stay connected with landlines still down in the city. The church’s only phone is Meador’s cell phone. “I’ve gotten more calls from churches that want to come help us,” Meador said. “God is really blessing us.”
First Baptist in Galveston has begun to have services again. Last week, they met in a local funeral home. This Sunday, they hope to start meeting in the chapel that was built in memory of 44 church members who lost their lives in the storm of 1900.
“I don’t guess we’ll have our praise band,” Meador said, “since we don’t have electricity.”