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Feature Story - November 2008

Ike Was a Home-Wrecker

Punishing storm took aim at Texas–now the state begins tackling recovery

Hurricane Ike will be remembered in Texas for mass evacuations and power outages and the total devastation to many Gulf Coast communities as well as damage well inland. It will not be remembered as the storm that stopped Texas from rebuilding.

By Eileen Schwartz

Two months after Hurricane Ike raked the Texas Gulf Coast and caused billions of dollars in damage, residents of Galveston, Houston and parts of South and East Texas are busy rebuilding their cities.

Communities along the Texas Gulf Coast including counties from Brazoria to Jefferson (shown, Chambers County) were hardest hit by storm surge flooding and beach erosion caused by Hurricane Ike. © 2008 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Communities along the Texas Gulf Coast including counties from Brazoria to Jefferson (shown, Chambers County) were hardest hit by storm surge flooding and beach erosion caused by Hurricane Ike. (Photo © 2008 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.)

Ike made landfall Sept. 13 as a Category 2 storm. One of the largest storms to hit Texas in decades, it wrought havoc in the southeastern portion of the state and well inland. Rebounding from the storm’s effects and rebuilding may take months if not years.

The U.S. death toll is still unknown. At press time, an estimated 67 fatalities-including 32 in Texas--are blamed on the storm. More than 350 people remain missing.

Galveston, which was in the midst of $2 billion in development projects citywide, was virtually paralyzed and is slowly recovering and starting to rebuild. When residents of Galveston began returning home in late September, City Manager Steve LeBlanc told them that anyone with property behind the 10-mi-long, 17-ft-high Seawall, which was constructed more than a century ago to protect the city, can “come home, stay, start assessing and rebuilding,” But for those with properties west of the Seawall, he advised, “Come, look and leave.”

An aerial view of a dark and drenched Galveston. Photo © AP/Wide World.
An aerial view of a dark and drenched Galveston. (Photo © AP/Wide World.)

The city’s water system was compromised and operating off generators. Water, sewer, natural gas and electricity services restored to areas behind the Seawall was described by officials as “very limited.”

West-end residents, business owners and their insurance adjusters were advised that they could re-enter the city, assess property, gather important belongings and then leave.

At press time, it was not known when west-end residents would be allowed to return to their homes permanently.

CenterPoint Energy of Houston made restoring power to Galveston’s treatment plants and pump stations a number-one priority. CenterPoint crews in Galveston focused on restoring power to areas that were protected by the Seawall, but crews worked throughout the island.

Meantime, in Houston, CenterPoint Energy had restored power to 66% of its customers as of Sept. 23, but 767,000 remained without service. In Beaumont, power was restored to all but 54,000 customers.

Galveston Island residents and business-owners were told to expect for debris and mosquitoes. Everyone entering the city was advised to bring gloves, masks and boots and to boil water until further notice.

“Wherever there was a flood--and that’s most houses--there is a risk of infection,” Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said after the storm.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry ( R ), right, meets with President Bush during his visit to Houston and Galveston to survey storm-affected areas. Photo courtesy office of Gov. Rick Perry.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry ( R ), right, meets with President Bush during his visit to Houston and Galveston to survey storm-affected areas. (Photo courtesy office of Gov. Rick Perry.)

Public health concerns Proper disposal of debris was also a concern and was handled at the local level by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, says agency spokesman Terry Clawson. The TCEQ performed field assessments for public water systems, wastewater treatment plants and landfills.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for clearing debris, was forced to close its Galveston District operations when the city was evacuated, relocating critical assets and personnel to an emergency operations center at its Addick Field Office on the west side of Houston. During the storm, the Corps monitored hurricane protection structures at Freeport, Texas City and Port Arthur.

No major damage has been reported to any of flood control structures, says Penny Schmitt, a Corps Public Affairs spokesperson. Schmitt is chief of public affairs for the Wilmington District in North Carolina, but is assisting with Hurricane Ike response.

She says that many Galveston Corps staff were displaced by the storm.

“Hydrographic survey of navigation channels, now under way, is a high priority,” she says.

Mutual assistance crews from across the U.S. and Canada helped CenterPoint Energy scramble to restore power to some 2.26 million of its Texas customers left without power after Hurricane Ike. Photo courtesy CenterPoint.
Mutual assistance crews from across the U.S. and Canada helped CenterPoint Energy scramble to restore power to some 2.26 million of its Texas customers left without power after Hurricane Ike. (Photo courtesy CenterPoint.)

The Galveston Seawall withstood Ike’s 11-ft surge. “We have not seen any major damage to the west end of the Galveston Seawall,” Schmitt says.

The business of rebuilding begins While many businesses and homes were destroyed or impacted by the hurricane, the cost of repairing the damage is still a matter of conjecture.

In late September, Gov. Rick Perry said it was “too early for a price tag” to be put on the damage. But he wasn’t going to wait around for Federal Emergency Management Agency, either. “Experience tells us that many Texans are not eligible for federal reimbursement,” he says.

Perry announced that the state launched the non-profit Texas Disaster Relief Fund.

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Boston-based catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide Corp. estimates that insured losses to onshore properties in the U.S. from Hurricane Ike could be between $8 billion and $12 billion.

Terry Clower, associate director for the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, agrees with Perry. “We don’t really know how long it may take to get operational before any of the damage can be assessed,” he says. “The adjustors and engineers are not able to get into all the areas to assess the damage on the large structures.”

For many, business as usual had not returned to the region. Jerry Nevlud, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, Houston Chapter, says that several members are still trying to get their offices up and running. The AGC office remained in the dark as did many of its members’ headquarters.

The severely damaged bridge at Rollover Pass across Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County. © 2008 TPWD.
The severely damaged bridge at Rollover Pass across Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County. (Photo © 2008 TPWD.)

“Things appear to be coming back, but it will be gradual,” Nevlud says. “Our members are still trying to figure out what needs to be done.”

The Port of Houston survived the storm with little damage, says spokesperson Maggi Stewart. The only problem was a lack of electricity at the terminals.

The $7.1 billion expansion of the Motiva Enterprises’ Port Arthur facility sustained some damage, says Shea Daugherty, spokesperson for the Bechtel/Jacobs Joint Venture responsible for the project. It is a partnership between Bechtel Corp., which has an office in Houston, and Jacobs of Pasadena, Calif. Work resumed on the project on September 22.

Karen Othon, spokeswoman for the Houston District of the Texas Department of Transportation, reports one bridge, the Rollover Pass in Galveston County, suffered severe damage. Construction of a replacement bridge was initially announced at a cost of about $2 million. Othon says the General Land Office asked that TxDOT repair, rather than rebuild, the bridge. TxDOT planned to let an emergency contract for $250,000.

Crews with the Texas Department of Transportation, working on Sept. 13, to clear southbound main lanes of IH-45 north of the Galveston Causeway. (Photo by Bryan Ellis, TxDOT).
Crews with the Texas Department of Transportation, working on Sept. 13, to clear southbound main lanes of IH-45 north of the Galveston Causeway. (Photo by Bryan Ellis, TxDOT).

The JPMorgan Chase Tower in Houston lost 487 panes of glass from the first through 40th floors during the storm.

“We don’t know the cause but speculate that it could have been a tornado due to the isolated area of destruction,” says Kim Jagger, director of corporate communications for Hines of Houston, the building’s owner.

The five-sided tower, built in 1982, reopened and was operational on September 17, with many of the windows covered with plywood, Jagger says. Cotton Construction of Waller, Texas, and Munters of Houston are completing the $7 million restoration.

Restoring power Nearly two million homes and businesses in Ohio serviced by Duke Energy were without power. “This is the worst our company has ever experienced in Ohio and Kentucky in terms of number of customers affected,” says Sandra Meyer, president, Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky.

In Texas, “all of Entergy’s Texas customers were without power at one time,” says Terry Hadley, spokesperson for the Texas Public Utility Commission.

Entergy, based in Beaumont, serves about 2.7 million utility customers in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.

As of Sept. 22, Entergy Texas in Beaumont had restored all but 54,000 customers, but still has two plants still off line-the Sabine, an 1,800-MW gas-fired power plant in Bridge City, Texas, and River Bend Station, a nuclear generation facility in Lousiana. The company shut down Sabine before the storm to protect it from damage. Even so, Sabine flooded, and repair work is progressing, says David Caplan, Entergy spokesman.

Blanca Valasquez, a spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy, which has about 2.26 million Texas customers, says the company had help restoring power from mutual assistance crews totaling about 8,000 linemen and tree trimmers from 31 states and Canada

Many of CenterPoint’s crews had just returned from Louisiana where they were helping with the Hurricane Gustav clean-up, she adds.

In order to provide adequate diesel fuel supply for generators, heavy equipment and other diesel-run vehicles needed for Hurricane Ike recovery, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was granted a waiver from Texas Low Emission Diesel standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state officials announced in mid-September.

A debris-lined road in Chambers County. © 2008 Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
A debris-lined road in Chambers County. (photo © 2008 Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.)

Clearing roads While most of the state’s highway system in TxDOT’s Houston District is cleared of debris and flood waters, the Beaumont district was still working to clear debris and assess damage.

“We’ll know [more] later on,” says Marc Shepherd, district spokesperson. “But we’re going to be doing a lot of repairing.”

TxDOT’s Beaumont district includes more than 5,500 lane mi of highway stretching throughout nine counties in Texas’ Piney Woods area, including Jefferson and Orange, among the areas hardest hit by Ike. “We were on the northeast side of the storm and took the brunt of it,” Shepherd says.

Several Texas State Parks remained closed due to Ike, down from 37 closures. More than 5,900 evacuees took shelter at 64 state parks outside Ike’s path, says Tom Harvey, spokesperson for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Othon reports damage to the Galveston Island Ferry landings on both the Galveston and Port Bolivar sides.

The Bolivar Peninsula, cut off on all sides, was transformed into an island. TPWD placed a game warden team as part of a recovery effort led by Chambers County on Smith Point, where much of the debris from Bolivar Peninsula communities washed ashore. Dozens of game wardens continue to support local jurisdictions with law enforcement patrols, looting prevention and related assistance in various parts of East and Southeast Texas.

Texas coast knows hurricanes In July, Hurricane Dolly, struck the Texas coast, making landfall at South Padre Island, about 35 mi northeast of Brownsville, causing flooding and affecting utility operations in the area.

When Hurricane Rita came onshore near the Texas/Louisiana border on Sept. 24, 2005, it caused more than $5 billion in damage and about 100 deaths, many during evacuation efforts.

Crews from TxDOT’s Beaumont District discovered a barge washed up on State Highway 73 near Bridge City. Photo courtesy TxDOT.
Crews from TxDOT’s Beaumont District discovered a barge washed up on State Highway 73 near Bridge City. (Photo courtesy TxDOT.)

In 1983, Hurricane Alicia was responsible for the loss of 21 lives when it hit the Galveston/Houston area.

Hurricane Carla hit Texas in 1961. It is remembered for its heavy damage to the Gulf Coast petrochemical sector and for triggering one of the first mass evacuation efforts in the state. The Category 4 storm took more than 40 lives--31 in Texas.

On Sept. 8, 1900, the deadliest storm in U.S. history devastated Galveston, killing more than 6,000 people and leveling much of the city. The Galveston Seawall was constructed after the storm by the Corps of Engineers and Galveston County in 1902 in a cooperative effort to provide protection against hurricane-generated wave action.

Debra Wood and Tonie Auer contributed to this article.

Useful Sources:
Public Utility Commission (PUC): www.puc.state.tx.us/files/ike.cfm
Road Conditions: http://www.txdot.gov/travel/hurricane.htm
Coastal Reconstruction: www.glo.state.tx.us/res_mgmt/coastal/pdf/Ikeemergencyrules-09-12-08.pdf
Federal Emergency Management Agency: fema.gov/assistance/register.shtm
Texas Disaster Relief Fund: www.TexasDisasterReliefFund.org

 

 

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