Five months after Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, Texas, the island
city on the Gulf of Mexico below Houston is struggling to recover. The
economic slump in the nation as a whole has made the task more
difficult, but many islanders are determined to rebuild their homes and
their lives there.
The party is in full swing at night in
downtown Galveston as the city celebrates Mardi Gras, a smaller version
of the big party held every year in New Orleans, 640 kilometers to the
east. The event culminates on Tuesday, with parades and street
parties. Both cities rely on these tourist-drawing celebrations for
their economic vitality and both are ever more dependent on them as
they recover from hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in
August, 2005 and Hurricane Ike caused widespread wind, surge and flood
damage to Galveston on September 13 of last year.
restaurants and hotels are open and thriving on the influx of visitors,
nearly 75 percent of shops in downtown Galveston remain closed and some
of the island city's biggest employers have either moved elsewhere or
are considering moving.
Dottie Rutledge, who has lived here
since 1968, lost her home to the hurricane and now lives in a hotel on
vouchers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Galveston is totally forgotten. There are piles of stuff here that nobody has picked up," she said.
from her personal frustrations with the government and the insurance
companies that have yet to provide funds to rebuild her house, Rutledge
worries that the recession hitting the United States now will further
undermine efforts to revive the local economy.
"It is going to
make it much worse here because the jobs in Galveston are gone,"
Rutledge said. "There are too many businesses that are not going to
rebuild and too many of them just moving off the island."
Betty Strickland, another displaced local resident, fears Ike may have permanently crippled her hometown.
is half the size it was. We had 64,000 people before and we have about
32 [thousand] now," Strickland said. "The school enrollment is down 50
percent. People are not coming back to Galveston. They sent 400
employees from American National Insurance Company to the mainland.
Galveston is a dead town. You can put a tombstone on the other side of
the causeway, because it is gone."
Another threat to Galveston's
recovery is the closing of a children's hospital and a proposal to move
another hospital to the mainland. Both hospitals sustained heavy
damage from flooding during the hurricane. The University of Texas
Medical Branch, which includes research facilities as well as a general
hospital, is Galveston's single biggest employer. A consultant group
hired by the University of Texas regents recommended moving the
hospital to the mainland. Local officials are fighting hard to convince
the regents to keep the facility where it is.
acknowledge the difficulties their community faces as it struggles to
recover, but they remain confident that it will recover and prosper if
both the state and federal government provide the support they need.
Galveston, one of the oldest cities in Texas, was almost completely
destroyed by a hurricane in 1900 and it never regained its status as a
major port city after the building of a ship channel that connected
Houston to the coast. But many of the people who lost homes here more
than a century ago rebuilt and kept the city going and many of the
people now living temporarily in hotels on federal vouchers say they
will continue their struggle to remain because this is their home.