A Glimpse of Galveston 10 Months After Hurricane Ike

The Galveston Seawall, built to protect the city from hurricanes

The Galveston Seawall, built to protect the city from hurricanes

Hurricane Ike hit on September 13, 2008, just a little more than 10 months ago. Preparing for the storm to come through Houston, going through the dramatic ordeal first-hand, and waiting for life to return to normal afterward are experiences I won’t forget.

But in these past 10 months, I haven’t gone to the coast, where the worst of Ike’s fury was felt.

I’m not a beach person, except for walks in cooler weather, but a day trip to Galveston has always proved a good diversion, whether for a jaunt through a few antique shops or a leisurely lunch at some seafood restaurant.

I knew that the worst of Ike’s devastation had been on the part of Galveston Island which is unprotected by the seawall and along Bolivar Peninsula, a short ferry ride to the east. I had seen news footage and photos of lot after lot, where homes had been completely washed away.

I had heard that the Galveston Seawall, built in the very early 1900s, after the 1900 hurricane, had protected most of the original part of the city from the horrific damage from which other areas had suffered, but I also knew that much of the city had been covered by water and getting the brunt of the Category 2 winds head on had to have had some effect.

So when I started heading down Broadway, which is what I-45 becomes after it passes over the Galveston Causeway, I was surprised that most everything looked the same as the last time I had been there. Galveston, though a popular spot for vacationers, has never really been much glass and glitter. Broadway has a lot of fast food restaurants, local seafood and Mexican places, and antique and thrift stores. Many had new roofs, but, otherwise, there weren’t many changes.

Nonetheless, a couple of things caught my eye. The most obvious is the price of gas is about 25 cents less in Galveston than even the cheapest stations in Houston. The second difference took me a moment longer to notice. Looking down the streets, something made me think of winter. Then I realized what was so strange. Most of the hardwood trees, the majority of which are Live Oaks, are dead. The streets and boulevards of Galveston are lined with these old majestic oak trees, and it appears that only about 5% are still alive. It must have been the salt water covering the land that killed them. It makes the city streets look bleak, all these big, old trees without leaves. I suppose they will have to be cut down, then how bleak will everything look?

I spent a little while along the seawall. Most activities appear back to normal, at least to my eye. Surf shops selling the requisite T-shirts and other touristy items are open, restaurants with outside decks spill over with customers, and bathing suit-clad vacationers stream in and out of the hotels and motels, many of which look completely refurbished. Yet, there is evidence of the storm: metal railings grotesquely twisted lead down from the seawall to the beach, and only rough pilings remain from the once notorious Balinese Room, other restaurants, and fishing piers that jutted out over the beach and water before Ike hit. Likewise, the Flagship Hotel, built upon concrete pilings out over the water stands damaged and forlorn, probably never to re-open. But there is also new construction, evidence that there is money to be made from those who come for a day at the beach, those who want an uncomplicated getaway, and those who just want a pleasant meal next to the rolling waves.

The Flagship Hotel, once a popular destination, now sits damaged and empty.

The Flagship Hotel, once a popular destination, now sits damaged and empty.

A pelican sits on a piling of a washed-away pier.

A pelican rests on a piling of a washed-away pier.

Construction of new buildings over the beach next to the seawall.

Construction of new buildings over the beach next to the seawall.

Miller's Landing Seafood Restaurant, re-adorned in Victorian style after Hurrican Ike.

Miller's Landing Seafood Restaurant, re-adorned in Victorian style after Hurricane Ike.

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One Response

  1. I’ve only been to Galveston Island once and that was twenty-five years ago. Your post brought back many happy memories of that trip. Is the area full of shops, bars, restaurants near the water called The Strand? I was a real tourist and took the trolley around to the stately homes, the driver pointed out the marks from cannonballs fired during the Civil War… Good trip! I’m glad they’ve rebuilt.

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