Galveston is open for business despite being pummeled by Hurricane Ike just a few months ago
Galveston is open for business. A little more than three months after Hurricane Ike blew ashore, the island city is putting the pieces of its lives and livelihoods back together.
An obvious clue that you're nearing the Gulf Coast is the marked increase in roofs covered in blue Federal Emergency Management Agency tarps along I-45. While crossing the bridge onto the island, the city looks like a war zone. A convenience store with a collapsed roof and an apartment building with a missing wall line the highway. A sailboat rests on its side in a field.
The farther you drive into town, the more things begin to look normal despite an occasional pile of debris. The tire shop and the doughnut shop on Broadway Street are open, as is the furniture store. Across town, Moody Gardens is welcoming guests.
On Seawall Boulevard, the 17-foot wall mitigated the storm's waves. In a short time, the hotels and restaurants were open again, and the tourists returned to the sidewalks. The storm churned up a new layer of sand, turning the beaches into treasure chests of lost items. Tourism accounts for 40% of the city's revenue, and having the businesses open is a giant step forward.
Missing along the seawall are the businesses that once hung off the land like strange appendages. The pilings that supported the Balinese Room for 65 years are now roosts for pelicans. The T-shirt shops over the water and fishing pier are all but destroyed. The old Flagship Hotel has a wall missing that exposes pieces of bedroom furniture. It's up to the state General Land Office to decide if they can rebuild the piers.
One of the hardest-hit areas of Galveston was the historic downtown. The storm surge flooded the bay side of town under 6 to 12 feet of seawater. After the tide receded, it left a layer of toxic mud from the waterfront to Broadway.
The good folks of Galveston are amazing in their resilience. The fronts of many of the turn-of-the-century buildings have been cleaned. Workmen are busy with the monumental task of making the stores and restaurants habitable again; progress is being made.
The Galveston Historical Foundation announced that the 35th Dickens on the Strand, one of Texas' best Christmas parties, will still happen on Dec. 6 and 7. Maybe a little scaled back from how it was originally planned, but for the vendors, entertainers, and volunteers, the show must go on. "Now more than ever we need our Dickens on the Strand Festival," said Dwayne Jones, director of the Galveston Historical Foundation. The festival will help raise restoration funds and everyone's spirits. Right now, a very tough Galveston could use a little of both. For information, go to www.dickensonthestrand.org or call 409/765-7834.
909th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.