Life After Ike: A Test of Endurance

Residents along the Texas coast are returning to their homes to find almost nothing there. Nearly all 200 homes along the Bolivar peninsula were totally destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Video by AP
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 15 -- Tommy LeCroy, proprietor of Bistro LeCroy, supervises the grilling of steaks and sausages, washed down with fine wine, on the deck of a loft overlooking a street buried in mud. This is the historic restaurant and retail district known as the Strand. The neighborhood is deserted. LeCroy is tending the last feeble embers of the good life.

"Look, we got gourmet wine, good food," he says, accompanied by a small group of hard-core survivors. "But we know we're going to run out of that. Then we'll have to eat MREs and get in line with the riffraff."

Hurricane Ike was terrifying for everyone, but for many the aftermath is worse. Conditions here are degenerating, with stagnant water breeding mosquitoes, toilets overflowing, no operating sewage system, hardly any running water, no power, no gas.

There's no functioning hospital. Officials fear a health crisis will result from the worsening sanitation. Electricity may not return for four weeks.

"The city is in ruins," Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said Monday. She predicted that her pulverized city may not fully recover for three or four years. The island is still closed, even to residents who fled before the storm.

"There's nothing to come here for," she said at a news conference. The people who stayed on the island are burdening a city flattened by the storm. The mayor made a simple request of her constituents:

"Please leave."

The news of the sewage problem comes from an unshaven, bleary-eyed man in a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt standing Monday morning outside the city's Justice Center: Eric Wilson, the director of municipal utilities. He said the generator running the wastewater plant was working fine during the hurricane, but then a piece of debris speared it. Now it's a treatment plant that's not doing any treating.

"It's filling up and it's waiting," he said. "It's not a good situation."

It could overflow into the bay, he said. He's working around the clock to solve huge infrastructure problems across the island.

"Sleep and a shower would be nice. It's overwhelming to a point," he said, but added, "The cavalry has arrived."

That specifically refers to a generator being shipped from McAllen, Tex., that could get the sewage plant working. But there are cavalry here in many different uniforms. They're around Ball High School. There's the Army National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Another several battalions of rescuers from Texas Task Force 1 are at a Methodist church. Contractors fill the parking lot at Home Depot.

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