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Galveston Still Struggles after Hurricane Ike


In mid-September last year, Hurricane Ike caused massive wind and water damage to the island-city of Galveston, Texas. Many residents continue to live in temporary shelters provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many others have moved elsewhere. Around half of the downtown's businesses remain shuttered and some large companies have moved jobs to inland locations.

Seven months after Hurricane Ike, workers are still trying to clear piles of debris in Galveston and surrounding beachfront areas.

Thousands of people were driven from their homes and some parts of Galveston Island still look deserted.

Many of those who lost homes ended up living in local hotels on vouchers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Some, like Betty Strickland, are in despair.

"Galveston is a dead town. You can put a tombstone on the other side of the causeway, because it is gone," she said.

Longtime resident Dottie Rutledge says the current recession has only made it harder to create jobs in Galveston.

"There are too many businesses that are not going to rebuild and too many of them just moving off the island," she noted.

But there is work, and reconstruction on nearby Bolivar Peninsula where local construction contractor, Randall Perry, is building homes for customers and also himself. Mr. Perry is optimistic.

"Once you become a member of this little community down here, it is like family. Everybody sticks together. It is a good little community," he explained.

He says he is building new homes to withstand storms like Ike.

"Older houses would not have the pilings that we have set up here. These are 10-by-10 [10 feet = 3.04 meters] pilings and they will go 12 feet [3.6 Meters] into the ground," he noted.

But for Galveston to fully recover, city officials say the city will need more than just renewed construction of expensive, hurricane-resistant homes.

The main tourist zone, facing the gulf, is protected by the 5.2-meter high, 16 kilometer-long seawall. But during the hurricane, flood waters coming from the unprotected sides of the island damaged many homes and businesses.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, at a recent forum in Houston, said she wants to build a flood wall around the entire island in order to entice back both employers and people. She says there are about 44,000 people living now in her tourist town, down from 58,000 before Ike.

"To get them back we have to have jobs, so there is a challenge to bring companies into Galveston," she said.

And the ever-optimistic mayor says people here have a diehard spirit of survival.

"I just think it is pure guts and grit and they are not going to let a whole lot of water and a lot of wind keep them away, they want to come back and they want to live there," she added. "They have sand between their toes and that's it."

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