Report from Galveston
Tue September 16, 2008 10:00 am

I will be flying over the Galveston area tomorrow. This report is from a telephone conversation with Rep. Craig Eiland.

This is what I knew before I talked to Craig: As has been widely reported, the major problem in Galveston is lack of infrastructure. He told me that some water has been restored. Electricity, gas, and sewer services are not functioning. The major storm damage was to the high-dollar developments on the west end of Galveston Island and to the bay side of the city. Beyond the seawall, FM 3005 runs parallel to the beach several hundred feet inland. Seaward of FM 3005, homes suffered considerable damage, particularly in the first couple of rows facing the Gulf. This was due to beach erosion: an estimated 200 feet of beach lost, and 4 feet of vertical scouring under slabs. As the slabs gave way, the houses on stilts buckled. On the bay side of 3005, structural damage was minimal. A friend I reached by cell phone told me that an eleven-foot wall of water swept through the Moody Gardens - Offat’s Bayou area. This occurred after Ike had moved inland and the wind came out of the north. Water had piled up in Galveston Bay and the wind blew it back toward the Gulf of Mexico. Babe Schwartz told me that his former home on the bayou was destroyed, that the seiche (the scientific name for the phenomenon) knocked holes in the walls and swept the appliances out of the house.

From Craig: Behind the seawall, the worst damage was from flooding north of Broadway. Galveston floods from the bay, not the Gulf. Water in Shearn Moody Plaza, the gleaming white building at the end of The Strand that once served as the Santa Fe depot, stood 14 feet deep–and in The Strand as well. The ground is barely 2 feet above sea level here. Many of the historic buildings suffered water damage. The University of Texas Medical Branch had four feet of water and no electricity. There is a boat marooned on Broadway, and a ship container is high and dry as well. Wind damage was minimal; Eiland did not board up the windows at his law office and no windows were broken. Homes between the seawall and Broadway generally had no water damage. Streets are clear of debris. Some may have seen Geraldo Rivera report that waves breaking over the seawall had gouged chunks of asphalt out of the pavement in front of the San Luis: not true, Craig said. Seawall Boulevard suffered damage at its western end, where the road veers right to link up with FM 3005. On East Beach, where the island is accreting, Craig said that the Beach Town development – in FRONT of the seawall – had no damage. New construction in Galveston must meet extremely high building code standards.

A marina that is located at the Galveston end of the causeway had major losses. The boats are piled up on the inbound lane into the city. Galvestonians will mourn the loss of the Balinese Room, though its heyday as a gambling den was more than half a century ago. The pounding waves severed the driveway to the pier on which the Flagship Hotel rests; Craig described the hotel structure as “severely compromised.” The bridge to Pelican Island, site of the Texas A&M at Galveston campus, is likewise compromised.

The worst damage was on the Bolivar Peninsula. The community of Gilchrist was wiped out; of 380 structures, Eiland said, 4 remain. The bridge at Rollover Pass to the east is out, and the ferry landing is damaged, meaning that residents have no way in or out except by boat. It will be at least two months before ferry service can be resumed.

This is the extent of my notes from my conversation with Eiland. I have a few comments of my own:

Galveston authorities have asked the people who rode out the storm to evacuate the city and those who did evacuate to stay away. This is understandable. Without electricity, there is no way to feed the population that is left in the city. But … water and houses do not mix. Time is of the essence. Homeowners need to pull up the carpet and tear out the sheetrock to prevent further damage to their houses. This is true throughout the Galveston Bay region. Otherwise, tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands, are going to be homeless.

One other point to ponder: Ike was a large and dangerous storm, but it was only a borderline Category 2/Category 3 storm. Hurricane forecasters predicted a 20 to 25 foot storm surge for Ike with massive battering waves. I was very skeptical of that forecast; no Category 2 storm has ever had a surge of that magnitude. Some day, though, a 4 or a 5 is going to head toward Galveston and Houston, pushing a mammoth storm surge in front of it. What will happen then?

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