While June 1 brings another hurricane season, Galveston County still carries scars left by the storms of the past. Some — shrunken coastlines, empty spaces where beach houses once stood — are plainly visible, even years later. Others are visions only in the memories of those who made it through previous storms.
Carole Hamadey remembers watching entire blocks wash away as the ferocious storm surge of Hurricane Ike swept over Bolivar Peninsula.
Lying on the floor of an upstairs bedroom at her Out by the Sea Bed & Breakfast in Crystal Beach, Hamadey and a friend tied extension cords to windows and pulled tight. They needed to keep the water from rushing through the second-story windows and killing them, she said. For more than three hours, the pair held the cords tight, which caused their hands to turn bloody, Hamadey said.
“We’re looking out the window and watching all the houses go down,” Hamadey said. “It was like a tsunami coming right at you.”
Hamadey had planned to evacuated before Ike made landfall. But as she was leaving, a friend who had no way off the peninsula, called for help, Hamadey said. Hamadey also picked up another woman with no transportation. The woman, who Hamadey didn’t previously know, refused to leave the bed-and-breakfast after the trio ate an early dinner Thursday.
By Friday morning, they tried to leave, but state Highway 87 was under water, Hamadey said. Her sedan was sputtering by the time they returned to the bed-and-breakfast. Hamadey began preparing to ride out one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history.
She remembers first watching small items such as furniture float by her home. Then the storm surge picked up a washing machine. Finally, the Jeep parked at a house closer to the beach hit her bed-and-breakfast, Hamadey said.
“It freaked me out,” she said. “I thought we would never live.”
But the women survived the night.
“In the morning, we walked out into the living room. We picked up our dogs and just sat and cried,” Hamadey said. “We didn’t dare open the door because we knew there wasn’t anything out there.”
Three days after the storm, paratroopers provided food and water; another three days later, they rescued the women, who ended up in San Antonio, Hamadey said.
Now, almost eight years later, emergency management officials are worried county residents could become complacent as memories of Hurricane Ike fade. Galveston County Emergency Management Coordinator Garret Foskit noted the importance of following evacuation instructions.
The category of a hurricane, a ranking determined by wind speed, should not be the only indicator telling people whether they should evacuate, Foskit said. The storm surge, which isn’t included in determining category, causes more deaths, he said.
“You hide from the wind and run from the surge,” Foskit said. “That’s what kills a majority of people — not wind, not hail, not lightning, not tornadoes.”
If residents decide to stay — which Foskit discouraged — it’s important that they have a plan that includes keeping 10 days’ of supplies, gasoline and medicine on hand, he said. In advance of a storm, residents should sign up for the county’s and city’s emergency notification system, Foskit said.
Some officials say that another Ike-like storm could be less devastating.
Charlie Kelly, the city of Galveston’s emergency management coordinator, said the city is more prepared now to withstand the type of flood damage that was caused by Hurricane Ike.
Part of the reason for that is the hazard mitigation money Galveston received from the federal government after the storm. The city, and utility companies such as CenterPoint Energy, have hardened their equipment against flood damage — in many cases raising key equipment off the ground so it isn’t affected by a surge.
“A lot of those facilities that went down, won’t go down next time,” Kelly said. “We won’t get our butt kicked again.”
Still, Kelly, who rode out Ike from the safety of Galveston’s Emergency Operations Center, echoed Foskit’s sentiments, saying he wouldn’t recommend staying through a storm to anyone who can avoid it.
“The experience is terrifying,” he said. “It really is. Even though I was in a safe place, it got to a point that it got kind of scary.”
The terror did not subside with the winds, although it became more mundane. Still, Kelly said he shuddered at thoughts of the loss of basic human dignities in the days after the storm.
“Not being able to flush your water for two weeks, that wears on a person,” he said.
However, some islanders told The Daily News they would stay and weather another storm, even after their harrowing experiences during Ike.
Lupe Rushing, the city secretary in Jamaica Beach, was working for the city of Galveston in 2008. She even helped people evacuate from the island in advance of the storm.
But when it came time to go back to her own home, she and her husband, a shrimp boat captain, decided they would stay.
It proved to be a dangerous decision. Rushing and her family watched as the water near their house began to rise
“As the day went on, the water kept coming,” Rushing said. “It got to the street, then the driveway, then the garage doors.”
The panic came after Rushing awoke from a nap on her living room couch to find herself on the water — her couch was floating, she said.
The family made its escape via a skiboat they kept in their garage. As the eye of the storm passed, they piled in and made a break for the hotel at the San Luis Resort and Conference Center on Seawall Boulevard, where Rushing knew the city had set up its emergency operations center. The boat got as far as Avenue U, where the water became too shallow for the boat. From there, they had to hoof it, hoping that the worst part of the storm didn’t hit while they were out in the open.
“It was very, very, very crazy, because you never knew when the eye was going to be done,” she said.
Rushing said she carried her pregnant daughter most of the way to safety.
Still, she said she wasn’t prepared to commit to leaving the next time a storm came around.
“If it was to happen again, more than likely we would stay again,” Rushing said.
As Ike showed, when a big storm hits, Galveston Island often gets the brunt of its wrath, but the winds and rains of hurricanes also have battered Galveston County’s mainland.
Derek Duckett, Texas City’s emergency management coordinator, was a firefighter when Hurricane Ike pounded the Gulf Coast in the 2008. Thanks to the levee and a system of pumps and the floodgate, Texas City didn’t get the onslaught of water that drenched other cities, he said.
“You still get the winds,” he said. “You can’t outrun the wind.”
Texas City and La Marque mayors did not mandate an evacuation during Ike, but — like his county and island counterparts — Duckett said it’s always best for people to voluntarily evacuate, if they have the means.
“We try to let people know that once winds get up to a certain speed, emergency services won’t be available to you,” he said.
Suspended services can even include emergency health care. If a stranded county resident had a heart attack after a flood-causing hurricane, an ambulance probably would not be able to get to that person.
Even if an ambulance can reach a patient, the EMS crew might not be able to get that person to the best place for treatment. Because area hospitals may be closed or their capabilities diminished by the storm, emergency responders often can’t take people who need help to those medical centers, Duckett said.
About 90 percent of the calls emergency responders received during Ike were people who were not taken to the hospital, he said.
“If it wasn’t a life emergency, they just didn’t go,” he said.
For people who don’t have the means to leave, buses will run trips to an Austin shelter, Duckett said. During Ike, 250 buses transported people seeking shelter, he said.
Even if a storm doesn’t lead to a mandatory evacuation, Duckett always urged people to leave.
“If you choose to stay, you’re at the whim of the storm,” he said. “There are not going to be the services and care you get on a normal day. And if you chose to stay, don’t expect to be rescued, because that may not be possible.”
Having the means and the will to evacuate is not enough, however, officials say. Residents also need a plan.
Steven Simmons, a deputy at the Friendswood Fire Marshal’s Office, said plans should include when, where and how residents plan to evacuate.
“Speak with family and friends that are out of the evacuation zone before hurricane season to ensure that they will have space for your family,” he said.
Residents should also prepare kits, Simmons said. The kits should include nonperishable food and bottled water to last at least seven days. They should also have at least two weeks’ supply of prescription medications and other items such as batteries, flashlights, a first-aid kit and clothing.
Any important paperwork is also a must, Simmons said.
“Include copies of important documents and papers in your emergency kit, such as insurance information,” he said.
Foskit also suggested evacuating residents use electronic copies of documents, such as insurance, and only pack possessions that can’t be replaced, like family photos.
Family pets should not be forgotten among emergency plans, Simmons said. Residents must remember to include pet food and other essentials. They also must confirm before time whether evacuation destinations would accommodate animals, he said.