Sunday, March 22, 2009


Last week, I was profoundly moved as I stood on the Gulf Coast of Texas where Hurricane Ike came ashore exactly six months ago. I had never been to the site of a natural disaster before and was quite unprepared for its overwhelming sadness.

The media in the Deep South had been pawing over the event on the half-year anniversary, using video images and anecdotes of that horrific night. Some of the stories were astonishing, even unbelievable, I thought. Then I went to the coast to see for myself. The pouring rain and gusty winds lent some reality to the scenes I saw, but nothing of the terror that those who rode it out experienced in the dark of the night.

On the Bolivar Penisula, about 95% of all habitation was erased. I was reminded instantly of the images of Banda Aceh after the tsunami. Today, all that remains are heaps of debris over the sandy, flat area; thousands of plastic bags litter the landscape, trapped in wire fences, around pilings, even amongst the fallen gravestones in the cemetery. The authorities have collected hundreds of fridges, stoves, washing machines, TVs, etc. into piles awaiting disposal and still have much work to do before rebuilding commences. Most residents lost everything.

Galveston Island fared a little better and probably 70% or more homes are still standing, though many are condemned. Beachfront restaurants are gone, marked by a few pilings left in the sand. The debris here has been cleared, except for the odd battered car and more unsightly plastic bags. (I swore I would never, ever use one again.)

As I stood and stared at the devastation, I thought mostly about the people who once lived there. The majority evacuated, but a few chose to stay. Of those, about 100 died. The survivors tell harrowing tales and relive the hurricane with frequent nightmares. I heard about miracles, unbelievable luck, and extraordinary courage.

There must be thousands more stories of survival, rescue, and loss to be told and I hope a writer in Texas is gathering them for a book.

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Photos (c) Julie H. Ferguson 2009.
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