What's Left: A Ravaged Island Covered With Rubbish

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008

GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 14 -- As Texas Task Force 1 convoyed into the west end of Galveston Island Sunday morning on a search-and-rescue operation, it immediately had to dodge a herd of cows. Livestock roam free in the wake of Hurricane Ike. This is a wild place now, where Nature has invoked a preference for disorder.

Anything not built on stilts on this island should have been. The storm scoured away everything below the second story of a house. A ground-level business called the Seaside Bistro has a new entrance about 30 feet wide. One homeowner has written on plywood: "I No Like Ike."

Cars are scattered, mired in ditches, at least one completely upside down. A mobile-home park is completely destroyed. The vast majority of houses survived more or less intact, though some on the beachfront now lurch sideways; one has collapsed like a souffle. A few appear to have exploded. Here and there, you see an intact roof sitting in a field like a windblown hat.

The hurricane does not appear to have been as lethal a storm as many feared it would be, but it was efficient in trashing this 32-mile-long coastal island. Hardly any property has been spared damage of some kind.

Rescue workers are going house to house, urging people to leave, telling them it could be four to six weeks before they get power and water. There had been widespread fear that the west end had been obliterated in the storm, because it is beyond the thick concrete seawall that protects much of the city of Galveston. Search operations after the storm were hampered by the high water and impassable main road. Convoys moved out Sunday morning, focusing on foot patrols, knocking on doors, making lists of people encountered, marking houses that were structurally unsafe, and of course looking for bodies.

Instead, the task force -- with members from as far away as Sacramento and Los Angeles -- found a desolate, ravaged landscape. There was hardly a soul in sight, only a few die-hards who told their stories of riding out the hurricane. Plenty of vacant, roughed-up houses, though, and an unbelievable amount of rubbish.

But property isn't all that matters.

"It's just stuff. We're all safe," said Donna Jones, 59, as she picked through the debris at her daughter Colleen's house. "The people here are pretty resilient. They'll just clean it up."

Next to the house was parked a jet ski that arrived during the storm.

"Finders keepers," Colleen Jones said.

Nearby, a resident warned National Guard members to be wary of an aggressive mastiff on the loose. Also, look out for snakes.

"The original name of this island was 'Isle of the Snakes,' " said Kirby Dever, 48.

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