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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Patrons in Popular Galveston Gay Bar Attacked by Rock Throwers

Robert's Lafitte, Galveston, Texas

Robert's Lafitte, Galveston, Texas

According to this morning’s Houston Chronicle, customers at Robert’s Lafitte, one of Galveston’s gay bars, were attacked by three thugs who entered the establishment and threw large rocks at the customers. Two people were hit in the head, one of whom was taken to the hospital and the other was treated at the club. The attackers ran from the scene, but the police caught them around 10 blocks away and brought them back to the bar, where they were identified by patrons. They are being held in Galveston County Jail on $120,000 bail, charged with assault with a hate crime enhancement.

Robert’s Lafitte has been a popular gay establishment on the Texas gulf coast for many years, but gained international notoriety when it was one of the last businesses to close before and one of the first to re-open after Hurricane Ike devastated the port city of Galveston.

Attacks of this kind are quite unusual in laid-back Galveston, and it has been quite a number of years since there have been publicized arrests of gay-bashers in the entire Houston metro area. This kind of attack does not give good publicity to Galveston, a city hard hit by Hurricane Ike this past fall, and a popular destination for spring-breakers from all over the country.

Watch the video report from chron.com:

Maneuvering the WOW (A Short Film with No Intermission)

They have a lot of roundabouts in Europe, but, comparatively, there aren’t so many, of what many of us call traffic circles, on this side of the Atlantic. I remember one of the first I ever encountered in a car was in Sheffield, England years ago. I had a hard time maneuvering this circle, not only because I hadn’t ever had to traverse one before, but I was also driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life. Whatever I did was obviously wrong because other drivers started honking at me, something the polite British seemed to rarely do.

This is the WOW at Westcott and Washington. I see some drivers, who themselves obviously haven’t encountered very many traffic circles before, trying to make their way around it, deciding which lane they need to be in, and finally figuring out which street to exit on. I’ve seen some get so confused that they go all the way around it before realizing that they are back where they entered the circle. I’ve seen semi trucks crunching up the curb and squeezing out cars. I’ve even seen a few fender benders and almost have been in more than one because drivers in the other lane try to make a fast move into mine. Even worse is that very few drivers pay attention to the yield-for-pedestrians-in-the-crosswalk signs, some of them even “gunning” their engines because, despite seeing the man and his little dog, they want to beat him to the crosswalk so they don’t have to wait for them to cross.

Most people that have lived in Memorial Park area for some time really like the roundabout. The WOW works so much better than the old intersection of five streets, where cars backed up at the never-ending red lights. Not only that but the traffic circle adds character to the neighborhood, especially with its old Live Oak tree (which came through Hurricane Ike practically unscathed) standing majestically in the middle.

Even with some near misses and encounters with a few arrogant drivers, I like the WOW too; thus, I’m using it as the setting for one of my first attempts at making a little video on my very recently purchased Everio camcorder. (And by the looks, I still need a great deal more practice.)

After Hurricane Ike–Seeing the Light in Houston’s Memorial Park, Camp Logan, Rice Military, 77007, and WOW Areas

October 1, 12:00 AM–It’s a decent night outside, and the streets in all directions seem so bright. It’s an amazing contrast from about three days ago and even more when compared with just ten days ago.

Although we had electricity here just 4 days after it had gone out, because of Hurricane Ike’s winds, much of the neighborhood was still in the dark. Looking toward the WOW Circle about ten days ago, it almost felt like standing on the edge of the city looking out into the darkness.

This past weekend, there was a flurry of activity by the repair crews, and finally by late Sunday evening, it seemed like most everyone in the area had electricity once again. Spec’s, Shipley’s Doughnuts, and the convenience store have been open for about 8 days, it took Candelari’s Pizza a few days longer. But that last holdout that would show that “yes, civilization had once again returned to the neighborhood”–those golden arches of McDonald’s did not light up the night until just yesterday.

As of 8 PM this evening, Centerpoint Energy show that just 2% or 42,000 customers are still without power, and in the 77007 zip code just 72 customers or 1%. Although some people have complained about being without electricity, most people that I know have kept a pretty good attitude throughout the entire time after Hurricane Ike. In reality, getting power back to more than 2 million people in this amount of time is no short task. The local crews as well as those that came in from parts far and wide have really done an amazing job, and by looking at the outage maps on a daily basis, we’ve seen it take place. 

Perhaps, there have been a few rough moments here and there, but by and large, the officials of local city and county governments have done a really good job of trying to get people out of harm’s way, taking care of the people who needed it, and getting life for most people of Houston and the area back to normal as quickly as possible.

Here in our area, there were many trees in Memorial Park that were lost to Ike’s fury, some roofs and outer walls need repairs or to be replaced, and outside fixtures and equipment like ACs may have been damaged, but overall this neighborhood stayed in tact.

Likewise, those who meet at our little pie-shaped dog park were good support for each other, just by enjoying the dogs and sharing and comparing experiences.

Still wanting more Hurricane Ike information?

After Hurricane Ike: Getting Back To a Routine, But Thinking About Blizzards and “Bierochs” (Recipe Included)

This week really felt good–getting back to a normal schedule, after being at loose ends without electricity and not working. I feel so fortunate to have pretty much everything back to normal, when there are so many who don’t, from those still without electricity here around town, to those down on the coast and other places inland, who lost so much–homes, jobs, and, in some cases, even loved ones.

A Clean Fridge

A Clean Fridge

It’s actually nice to start with a clean, fresh refrigerator. I threw everything out the next day after Hurricane Ike came through, knowing that even though the fridge was still cool, the electricity probably wasn’t going to come back on soon enough to save anything, and, in fact, it didn’t.

Somehow restocking the fridge and just going through being without utilities for a few days got me to thinking about the blizzards that we used to have on the farm when I was a kid. If there was an ice storm, or the winds were strong enough and snapped a pole, then there’d be no electricity. And the electric crews couldn’t get out to repair the lines until the snow plows opened up the drifted roads.

The worst storm I remember was when I was in maybe second or third grade. The drifts in front of the house were lots taller than Dad, and some of the drifts on the roads covered them completely, so it was hard to know where the roads and ditches were or where the stone post and barbed wire fences were alongside them. That year, the National Guard flew out in helicopters or airplanes and tried to throw hay bales down for the herds of cattle that were stranded out in the snow. Apparently, they missed their target somewhere between our place and town, because they ended up tossing some of the bales down onto some power lines, and made getting the electricity back on much more of a problem. It took two weeks to get electricity back and for the snow plow to come make a way for us to get out.

During the time the lights were out, the biggest problem on our farm was getting water because there was an electric pump on the well. There was a tank in the well, but even if there was electricity, sometimes the pipe from the well to the house would freeze up. If it didn’t freeze, we’d try to make the water from the tank stretch, just using it for drinking. For washing, we’d go out and get snow to melt or go to the creek, break the ice on top, and bring it back, then strain it with the milk strainer to get it clean enough to use.

A lot different than these “modern” days, when a hurricane comes through during the hot months, keeping food and cooking it was never really a big problem when the electricity went off during a blizzard. Things from the fridge that needed to stay cold could go out in the wash house, where they would stay really cold or even frozen. Also Mom always kept cupboards stocked with the basics like flour and lard, and there was milk and cream from the couple of milk cows that we usually had, which needed to be milked blizzard or no blizzard. We also used propane for the cook stove and heating, so we always kept warm and ate well. Out back, we had “the cave”, which held the jars of canned vegetables and fruits and a bin filled with potatoes. (The cave is another story altogether.)

Mom cooked a lot on cold days because it warmed up the kitchen, which helped keep the entire house warmer. It seems like we always had a lot of soups on those cold winter days. Because we had chickens, we had homemade noodle soup and from our own meat, vegetable beef soup, and, well, chili too. Mom made the best angel food cakes, and I usually got a chocolate angel food cake for my birthday. (You’re thinking I’m changing the subject, but I’m not.) The angel food cake Mom made took a dozen egg whites, so then the yolks were left over–Just what is needed to make homemade noodles. Mom would roll them out on the linoleum-topped kitchen table into big round circles, and then hang them over the backs of the chairs to dry a bit. Then she’d lay all of them one on top of the other, roll them up, and slice them into thin, curly strips, spreading them out on the table to dry some more. That’s when we’d try to sneak a few of the fresh, uncooked noodles without her seeing us. Well, I did that; being the youngest, I know I did. And I got away with it most of the time.

We had our own meat from the cows we raised. Dad would get somebody to take one of the younger ones that had been born the spring before into Klema’s in Wilson, where it would be butchered. Klema’s also had a locker plant, which rented lockers where you could keep the meat that had been butchered frozen. I’d go back in there with Dad when we went to get groceries; it was so cold that they had extra coats hanging on some hooks that you could wear while you were inside the locker part. Dad had his own key for our locker, which he opened and got the meat that we wanted for that week. There was no cellophane or styrofoam on those packages of meat; everything was wrapped in white butcher paper, taped closed, and stamped with whatever cut of meat was in the package: Pike’s Peak roast, round steak, hamburger, and the like.

From our own ground beef, one of the best cold weather dishes that Mom made was bierochs (pronounced beer-rocks). (Actually, now that I’m writing this I’m thinking that I’m going to make some when the first really cool weekend arrives here in Houston. But who knows when that will be?) Not many people are familiar with beirochs unless they’ve got some German-Russian in their heritage. And I don’t mean German or Russian, I mean German-Russian. In the area of Kansas where I grew up there were lots of people whose heritage is German-Russian. I don’t know the history of it all because our family was not of that descent, but apparently, for reasons of not wanting to be in one military or another military, at some point, large numbers of these people immigrated from Germany to somewhere near the Volga River in Russia, and then in the late 1800s and very early 1900s, many of them or perhaps their descendants immigrated to the US, especially to parts of central and western Kansas.

And one of the best things they brought with them was bierocks. It was one of those dishes that many people in my little town of Dorrance made (and still make), and my mom was one of them. I guess she may have learned how from an aunt. We didn’t have bierochs too often at home because they’re one of those delicious dishes that take time to make. Basically, they are a meat and cabbage filled bun. The filling is the easy part, and it doesn’t take exact measurements. How much of the few ingredients you use depends on how many bierochs you want to make.

In a big skillet, you need to brown up some ground beef (a pound or two) and some onion, just like you might do if you were making spaghetti sauce. Then drain off any grease that cooks out. Then add at least a half of head of shredded cabbage. Again, you might want more cabbage if you’ve used more ground meat. (My mom used to complain that some other women were cheap and didn’t use enough, or maybe any meat.) Salt and pepper well because the cabbage, especially, will absorb the seasonings. (I’ve lived in Texas so many years that sometimes I also add about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper.) Put a lid on the meat and cabbage mixture and let the cabbage cook down some. The cabbage can stay a tad on the not-so-cooked side because this filling will cook a bit more when baking the bierochs themselves. When cooked, let the mixture cool down some before filling the dough. I’ve seen some recipes that add ketchup and mustard and a few other ingredients, but ground beef, cabbage, a little onion, and salt and pepper is “the Dorrance way”.

To make bierochs quickly, some people like to roll out dinner rolls from the dairy case to use for the outside. I’ve tried that, but the results are just “OK”. You really need a good recipe for homemade rolls, or “buns” as we’ve always called them, for the bread covering of the bierochs, if you’re going to make “real” bierochs. As I said before, the filling is the easy part, so if you’re going to make homemade dough, you have start it first. And if you’re going to have bierochs for supper, you might want to get the dough started in the morning, depending on how fast your dough rises. Making bierochs really is not difficult, but because there are several steps, it does take time.

Here is my mom’s “bun” recipe, but I’ve also used one that included a mashed boiled potato and the potato water. Both are good.

1/4 cup warm water, 1 package yeast, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3 tablespoons shortening, 2 beaten eggs, 2 cups boiling water, and 7 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in the 1/4 cup of water. (Add a teaspoon of sugar to make the yeast rise.) Put sugar, salt, and shortening in a large glass or crock bowl. Add 2 cups of boiling water, and let cool. Add beaten eggs, yeast, and four cups of the flour. Beat well (with an electric mixer). Then add the rest of the flour and stir in gradually. Let rise until doubled.

For bierochs, take a portion of the dough and roll it out on a flour-covered surface until it is about 1/4 (or less) inch thick. Cut the dough into pieces about six inches square. You’ll probably need to roll each piece again as it tends to pull back together once you cut it. Using a spoon, heap about 1/4 cup of the filling into the center of the square of dough. Then fold the corners in so that all 4 corners meet; pinch all of the seams tightly closed. Then place the bierock in a greased baking pan, seam side down. Continue making the individual bierocks and arranging them in rows in the baking pan. The bierocks do not need to touch in the pan because they need to rise one more time before baking. Place a tea towel over the entire pan (or pans depending how many you have made) and let rise until they look like soft pillows. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the bierochs until they are golden brown on top. (If you have made more dough than filling, you can make the rest of the dough into “buns”. With your hands greased, roll the dough into balls a bit larger than a silver dollar, place them in a greases baking pan, let rise, and then bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.)

Some people like to make much bigger bierochs, maybe because they think they can make them faster, but I like them about the size of a hamburger bun (only square). Plan for two or three per person. These are great with a nice salad or vegetables alongside. Some people (including me) like to dip bierochs in a little ketchup; however, some people are purists and like them plain. They are great right out of the oven, but they can also be kept in the refrigerator and heated up in the microwave. They also freeze well if they are kept in a very tight plastic bag or container.

Still today, after eating foods from all over the world, if someone asks me what my favorite is, I’ll still say the same thing that I would have said when I was about 10 years old: bierochs.

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If you liked this article, you might like Hamburger Gravy, Puddin’ Meat, Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy, and Sex in a Pan.

After Hurricane Ike–Newly Updated Sunday, September 28th–What It’s Like From My Place In Houston–Lots Luckier Than the Majority; Also Electricity Outages and School Openings Links; Plus, Aerial Video of Devastated Areas on Galveston Island and Other Coastal Areas

Updated Sunday, September 28th–It’s been more than two-weeks from when Hurricane Ike started with the grey clouds and blustery winds in our area on that Friday somewhere around noontime. I had closed up and protected my 3rd floor apartment near Memorial Park, gathered up Annie and a few belongings, and headed to a relative’s house in Bellaire, Texas (Bellaire is a small city inside Houston) near Highway 59 and Loop 610.

I think we were some of the very lucky ones in the area. The storm was strong, but aside from some superficial wind damage neither the house where I was staying nor my apartment was damaged. Where I was staying, there was a gas stove and gas water heater, so we were never dirty or hungry. I had taken lots of food supplies too. Luckily, I found a small portable TV and could keep up with what was happening both during and after the storm went through. I had my cell, and the regular phone over there never went down.

At the house in Bellaire, the electricity came back on on following Monday about noon, and here at my apartment, about 10 PM on that Tuesday. However, even two weeks later a lot of neighbors in Bellaire and a lot here near Memorial Park still don’t have electricity.

If anyone thinks there is some kind of preference given to who gets their electricity restored first, our neighborhood proves that there isn’t. Here we sit in just mid-range apartments with our refrigerators and ACs buzzing, while just across the street and even right next to Memorial Park, our neighbors in townhomes and houses worth $500,000 to several million are having to sit in the dark or try to keep things going with generators.

All over the area, where stores and businesses have electricity, they are open. Some without electricity are operating by the use of generators. In my area, all of the larger super markets are back to normal, but there are still some businesses without. The McDonald’s near I-10 and Washington still isn’t open because it doesn’t have electricity.

Electricity–Who’s Got it

Centerpoint says all but 12% of it’s customers are back on line, but that still about 275,000.

Schools and What Else Is Open

The Houston Chronicle has tons of Ike information and places for information about what schools and restaurants (and other businesses) are open.

Aerial Video–Galveston Island and Other Devastated Areas

Someone was looking for aerial video of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike. Here is a link that shows aerial video taken of quite a few of the different coastal areas badly hit by the storm.

Bellaire Information

Thanks to a reader, here is the Bellaire Examiner’s web page, where you can find specific information and news about Bellaire, Texas.

About the Bayous in the Houston Area and the Houston Ship Channel

The Port of Houston Turning Basin near the 610 Loop Bridge that crosses the Channel.  Beyond the basin, the ship channel becomes more of its original self--Buffalo Bayou with downtown Houston in the background.

The Port of Houston Turning Basin near the 610 Loop Bridge that crosses the Channel. Beyond the basin, the ship channel becomes more of its original self–Buffalo Bayou with downtown Houston in the background.

About Bayous in Southeast Texas and Houston Area

During Hurricane Ike, local officials and residents were worried about the surge from the storm pushing water up into the area bayous and flooding low-lying parts of the city. (For people out of the area, Houstonians call the area’s streams that flow into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico “bayous”.) The primary bayou, which also flows through a large part of the city and finally down through downtown Houston, is Buffalo Bayou.

In the early days of the city, Buffalo Bayou once was the site of a port in what is now downtown Houston. Later, there was a major dredging of Buffalo Bayou from Galveston Bay, and this is what is now known as the Houston Ship Channel and is the site of the current Port of Houston. However, the Houston Ship Channel ends at the Turning Basin, which is in a part of Houston known as Harrisburg (which, in the early days of Texas, was a separate settlement), several miles down Buffalo Bayou from that old Houston port. Very close to the Houston Ship Channel are some of the primary refineries and chemical plants of the entire Gulf Coast area.

Bayous are a bit different than regular rivers or streams because the water can flow in both directions, moving backwards, or upstream, when the tide is high.

The old port of Houston on Buffalo Bayou that was used from the early days of the city until 1914 when what is now the Port of Houston was started about six miles further downstream.

The old port of Houston on Buffalo Bayou that was used from the early days of the city until 1914, when what is now the Port of Houston was started about six miles further downstream.