Galveston, oh Galveston, I Still Hear Your Sea Winds Blowin'

Hurricane Ike is just about to make landfall, and looks like it will just about bulls-eye Galveston, Texas. This is, of course, nearing the worst-case scenario; Galveston, like New Orleans, is extremely low-lying, and if Ike overtops or breaches the sea wall protecting Galveston, the damage could be catastrophic. This wouldn’t be a problem if Galveston had evacuated, but almost half the city chose to ride it out, with predictable results:

As Hurricane Ike pushed a swelling surge onto Galveston Island tonight, many Galveston residents who ignored a mandatory evacuation order phoned for rescues to no avail because emergency workers were called off the streets, officials said.

Help wasn’t expected until after dangerous storm conditions subsided.

“We don’t know what we’re going to find tomorrow,” said the city’s mayor, Lyda Ann Thomas. “We hope we’ll find that the people who didn’t leave here are alive and well.”

City Manager Steve LeBlanc went so far as to ask the media not to photograph “certain things” in the aftermath, referring to the possibility of dead bodies.

Power was out all across the island, much of which already had flooded. Two house fires are burning, as did a boat warehouse that was widely photographed earlier today.

Power lines are down, he said, and it may be weeks before it can be restored. Assessment teams will get out Saturday morning after the storm. Fifty people were rescued from high water and about 260 are in a shelter at Ball High School.

LeBlanc said he didn’t know how long it would take before evacuated residents could return. The city may briefly allow them back in to check on their homes, but will then ask them to leave again until the city is safe.

“We feel the city of Galveston will have suffered from this storm,” she said.

Eric Berger, who mans the Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy Blog, was not optimistic:

I noted on Wednesday night that I couldn’t believe that the Galveston mayor hadn’t yet called for an evacuation, and she finally did Thursday morning. Still, I feel that emergency planners weren’t sufficiently firm in their warnings, leaving that job to the National Weather Service.

Sensing the danger, the weather service was left to writing messages such as, “Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single family one or two story homes will face certain death. Many residences of average construction directly on the coast will be destroyed. Widespread and devastating personal property damage is likely elsewhere.”

Unfortunately this may now come to pass on an island where more than 20,000 people remain to ride out a monster hurricane.

Meanwhile, tiny Surfside Beach has already been completely swamped, and the damage looks like it will only grow worse.

I am not by nature a praying man, but I also am of the firm belief that no matter what lies beyond this mortal realm, whether it be incomprehensibly vast or simply nonexistent, no good thought is wasted. And so if you are one who is so inclined, please pray for those who are facing catastrophe tonight; if you do not wish to pray, at the very least hold them in your heart. Perhaps the flood wall in Galveston will hold, and the level of destruction will not be as great as it could have been. Perhaps not. But these are our fellow humans, and it is our duty to remember them tonight.

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5 Responses to Galveston, oh Galveston, I Still Hear Your Sea Winds Blowin'

  1. 1
    Cerberus says:

    I hope as many as possible make it through alive and am sparing good thoughts for them.

    I can also understand. After the lessons of Katrina, leaving for a hurricane was a one-way ticket for a slow death in poisonous trailers. That and I have few doubts that the same lack of resources for those without the transportation was in play again.

    If there is death, it is entirely on the heads of Bush and his failures both to aid and to provide any sign that leaving would almost certainly be a worse prospect than certain death.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    Amen, Jeff. Well said.

  3. 3
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Really, really bad joke on the subject:

    “In light of recent events, we have decided to change the name of Texas to Tina Turner”.

    Why yes, that is my ticket to Hell. I’ll have an aisle seat for the trip, please.

  4. 4
    David Strang says:

    Overall I thought the various government entities had done pretty well until the Galveston mayor’s colossal blunder today. Her decision to implement the “look and leave” policy was the single worst decision I have seen an elected official make in a very long time. What was she thinking? She didn’t think that many would show up? She knows how many left. By her own admission she claims she felt their urgency to get back for a look. So why was she surprised by a 15 mile back-up on I-45?

    Her desicion was totally irresponsible. It reflects an emotional desicion rather than a logical one. It does not matter how bad people want to get back if you cannot ensure their safety. Galveston has nothing! No gas, no EMS, no food, no water, nothing! It is no place for ordinary civilians, property owners or not, to be. When the entire area is starving for gas, she recklessly encouraged thousands to “come take a look”, wasting precious fuel. The vast majority never saw the island and had to turn back. Meanwhile critical relief vehicles were stuck in an unecessary traffic jam.

    This woeful desicion is proof that Galveston should be under marshal law and the military and/or State Police should be calling the shots. Where were her advisors? Did no one tell her this was a very bad idea? She and anyone who did not oppose her should resign immediately. She is obviously in way over her head. Why didn’t the governor or someone step in and over-rule this dangerous lack of judgment? I am in absolute shock that this idea got even a moment of consideration let alone it actually was allowed to happen. People in leadership positions must act more responsibly. That’s what they are elected to do.

  5. 5
    James Stephens says:

    I just ran across your article and thought I would pass along what I thought after watching the first televised news conference. I felt the mayor should not have made such casual statements regarding the approaching storm:

    “We have done this so many time I am not going to put the residents through it again”

    and let us not forget this one …

    “Our shops will be open so come to Galveston this weekend”

    These types of comments lead the public to believe there is nothing to fear, so why not hang around. I have friends in different parts of the country who are blaming the residents for not leaving. The don’t know the rest of the story because the local media has let the mayor slide on this one because…well, I am not really sure why.

    While it is true some people will never leave, many who did not leave would have done so had the tone been different. The Mayor was obviously more concerned with generating revenue than following logical storm warning protocol. When you throw in her invitation to the evacuated residents to return too early and the media ban placed on city employees this really starts to look like extremely poor management.

    It looks like the winds of change need to blow through Galveston Island city management.