Hurricane Ike Remembered
A Review of Guidry News Coverage of the Great Storm of the 21st Century
by Jim Guidry
Early in the morning on September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike moved ashore covering hundreds of miles of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast with a salt water storm surge.
Cities protected by adequate levee systems, like Texas City and Port Arthur, were protected from the surge. Others, including Galveston Island with a Seawall on the Gulf side but no protection from Galveston Bay, were devastated.
Property protected by the Galveston Island Seawall fared well, but because city and county leaders had discounted a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal for a levee system for the island in the late 1970s, 75 percent of the island, including homes and businesses, was covered by the salty surge that included sewage and petroleum products that had been collecting in Galveston Bay and the Houston and Galveston ship channels for decades.
September 7, 2008 - Hurricane Ike Threatens
Guidry News Service coverage of Hurricane Ike began with a warning on Sunday, September 7 from Jim O'Donnel at the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory advising that there were increasing indications that Hurricane Ike may have an impact on the Texas Gulf Coast.
"Instead of going through the Florida Straits, Ike is now expected to make landfall in Cuba and then traverse the backbone of the island before emerging into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico near Havana, Cuba on Tuesday afternoon," O'Donnel reported.
The following day, September 8, was the anniversary of the Great Storm of 1900. Municipal and county officials participated in a conference call with state officials and the National Weather Service to discuss Hurricane Ike and its expected impact on the Texas Gulf Coast. More
That afternoon Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and City Manager Steve LeBlanc met with reporters in City Council Chambers following the conference call. More
Also on that day, Guidry News Service published our coverage of events on September 8, 2000, the 100th anniversary of the Great Storm. More
On September 9, Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough reported that State and National Weather Service officials were expecting Hurricane Ike to make landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast well to the south of Galveston County. More
However, later that day Mayor Thomas reported to a news conference that the predicted track had taken a turn to the north and was now expected to make landfall at Matagorda Bay. More
Mixed Messages Prevailed as Ike Approached
Mayor Thomas warned residents of the West End of Galveston Island to prepare for a possible evacuation, but stressed that she was not calling for an evacuation of Galveston at that time.
The following day, September 10, Judge Yarbrough reported that voluntary evacuations were being recommended for coastal areas around Galveston County. Listen
"Bolivar Peninsula, the West End of Galveston, Jamaica Beach, Bayou Vista, Tiki, Clear Lake Shores, Kemah, low lying areas of Dickinson are recommended (for) a voluntary evacuation beginning today," Yarbrough said.
That same day the Captain of the Port for Sector Houston-Galveston set Port Condition X-Ray effective. "Anticipating gale force winds to make landfall within 48 hours, all vessel owners and operators shall enact their plans to moor or anchor their vessels, or put to sea, in preparation of the severe weather associated with Hurricane Ike." More
Also on September 10 Galveston City Council held an emergency meeting to declare an emergency, then called for a voluntary evacuation of West Galveston Island. More
"A voluntary, I repeat, a voluntary, evacuation of the West End of Galveston Island," Thomas stressed.
However, later in the day, Thomas revised her assessment. Listen
"The weather has changed, considerably," Thomas said calling on City Manager Steve LeBlanc for an update.
"It appears that the storm has taken a turn more towards Galveston," LeBlanc advised, noting the likelihood of a significant storm surge. "It appears that we will receive hurricane force winds during the course of this event, late Friday night and early Saturday morning, and this is giving us a pretty serious concern as well."
It was at this meeting that Thomas totally reversed the previous policy of the city, county, state and American Red Cross that no shelters would be provided on Galveston Island or any other area anticipating hurricane force winds; and that evacuation is the only acceptable option.
"As far as the city of Galveston is concerned, we are calling for voluntary evacuation," Thomas said. "We are also going to provide shelters on the island, but not until Friday."
Thomas said that the hurricane force winds and high tidal surge anticipated at that time did not justify asking the residents to evacuate.
"We will ask the citizens of Galveston, as the county is doing, to shelter in place," Thomas said. "That means if you can stay at home, we would like for you to do that."
Thomas stressed that she did not intend to call for an evacuation.
"It is the last thing, the very last thing that I would ever want to do," she said. "We did it once and never want to do it again."
Some members of the news media were taken aback by the mayor's announcement that there would be no mandatory evacuation, but instead the city would provide shelters.
"Mayor Thomas is there a tipping point, where that changes from voluntary to mandatory for the rest of the island, over say the next 12 to 18 hours, or is there a drop dead time when you can't do that?" asked a Houston reporter.
"Well, I think that a mandatory evacuation at this time is not possible," she responded. "It's just not possible. The window, the time to do that is long past and of course the storm has been so wobbly, right now we are doing what we think is safe."
"You waited too late," I said.
Thomas waited to respond until she answered several questions from other members of the media, then returned to my statement.
"Jim did you have anything?" Thomas asked.
"Well, apparently you waited too late if you were going to make a mandatory evacuation?" I asked.
"You know, we could try that," Thomas responded. "But we don't think we need to do it."
"Generally you say you plan for one category above?" I asked, stating the standard operating procedure of emergency management professionals, to plan for a storm one category above what is expected, in case the storm increases in intensity as it makes landfall - not an unlikely scenario.
"We do," Thomas said, then deferred to LeBlanc.
"Jim, I'll tell you that just two days ago, on Monday, we all were breathing a big sigh of relief as far as what the conditions were. They had actually gotten much more favorable to us; and we have to go with the information that we have. And I think that's an incorrect statement - that we waited too long. We have gone exactly on the information that we have received. Yes, we do plan for one greater. We try our very best not to pull the mandatory trigger because that obviously causes a lot more effort and expense."
Of course, the city manager and the mayor were required to totally reverse their plans again the following day when Ike continued its course toward landfall in Galveston.
On September 11, Jim O'Donnel of the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory, announced that he was giving up his station before the tides reached five feet.
"Due to the possibility of extreme damage or even total destruction of the weather station and utility failures, it is unknown when (or if) we will be able to reopen," O'Donnel said. "Hurricane Ike has the potential to produce major to catastrophic damage to the west end of Galveston Island including here at the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory. I know many of you reading this are in the same predicament as me and I sincerely wish all of you the very best of luck with your own situation."
That same day, Mayor Thomas and Judge Yarbrough called for a mandatory evacuation of Galveston Island, and portions of unincorporated Galveston County. More
"The weather has changed," Thomas said in opening the news conference. "Judge Yarbrough is here."
"Circumstances obviously change (with) every update of the weather," Yarbrough said. "Unfortunately at every juncture, the storm seems to be inching closer to Galveston and Galveston County. Therefore we have adjusted our plans accordingly."
Also on September 11, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett declared a "state of disaster" for Harris County, granting him powers to control evacuations, rescue efforts and the closure of county facilities. More
President George W. Bush announced Emergency Declarations for Texas. More
On September 12, Guidry News Service moved operations from Galveston Island to the Galveston County Emergency Operations Center in Dickinson.
The move included our computers so that we could continue to report information throughout the storm's approach and landfall.
Judge Yarbrough and Meteorologist in Charge of the Houston-Galveston Office of the National Weather Service Gene Hafele held a news conference at the EOC as Hurricane Ike moved toward landfall. Yarbrough also reported on two fires on Galveston Island. More
"Probably within the next few hours tropical storm winds are going to be coming on shore and conditions are going to begin to worsen here in Galveston County and all of Southeast Texas," Hafele said. "Hurricane force winds are expected to reach the area probably after sunset this evening. Because it is such a huge storm, hurricane winds will likely last here in the Galveston County area 10 to 12 hours."
Kemah Mayor Greg Collins and City Administrator Bill Kerber visited with Guidry News Service at the EOC. More
"I just finished talking to the police department down there and we've got a lot of water coming up over the streets, especially down around 6th Street by T-Bone Tom's and of course down on the Boardwalk," Kerber said. "Actually the winds are getting to the point right now where we are going to cease the police operations and just kind of hunker down there and be ready to get back out there as soon it passes by."
Shortly after midnight, Galveston County Emergency Management Coordinator John Simsen reported that hurricane force winds were causing damage in Galveston County. More
"Power has been out on the island for some time, our jail is running on generator power, as you know, as we are," Simsen said. The power at the County Emergency Operations Center was off for only a brief moment until the generator kicked in. "We have reports of trees down all over the place, reports of flooding, a couple of fires, apparently electrical generated fires."
In a later update Simsen reported that two and one-half to three feet of water was flooding the Galveston County Courthouse at 722 Moody on Galveston Island. More w/photos
Galveston County Community Development Director Curtiss Brown was among about two dozen County employees who weathered the landfall of Hurricane Ike at the old Galveston County Courthouse on Moody. He shared his photos and thoughts with GuidryNews.com. More
After the winds of Ike subsided, Yarbrough said that Hurricane Ike strained the resources of the county but he was pleased that his team worked well during the night. More
"We have good folks working out there," Yarbrough said. "We are already working with debris management and recovery efforts. As you know, we've got a team working with every discipline working right here."
Yarbrough noted that there was a great deal of damage on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. He said that damage and casualties had not been tallied in Bolivar, but reported that the bridge at Rollover Pass was damaged, causing the peninsula to become an island.
"The glimmer of good news is that the Texas City Levee worked," he said. "We had some wind damage and some trees down, but no flooding at all in those communities."
Tiki Island Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Cullather, who provided photos, and Mayor Charles Everts talked to GuidryNews.com after they assessed damage on Saturday. More
"I am devastated," Mayor Everts said. "Tiki Island took a hard hit."
However, Everts was impressed that most of the structures survived because of the adherence to strict building codes.
The following day, Sunday, September 14, Yarbrough spent part of his day on Galveston Island. He reported in an interview that the island was improving. More
Yarbrough reported that there were at least three bodies found on the Bolivar Peninsula since Ike came ashore, but predicted "there will be more." He said that a dozen survivors were found on the Bolivar Peninsula. "The bad news is they still don't want to evacuate."
Galveston County Daily News reporter Chris Paschenko and photojournalist Keven M. Cox spent Sunday surveying areas that were impacted by Hurricane Ike. More
"We toured a good part of the county going to Texas City and we also went to La Marque," Paschenko said. "Today we saw people waiting in line for an hour or more, in some places 50 to 75 cars deep, at filling stations that were just starting to come on line in League City and a few in Texas City."
However, the pair came across a service station on Highway 146 in Bacliff that had only one car ahead of them and they were able to top off their tank.
Paschenko said the newspaper's facility on the mainland fared pretty well, but the Galveston Island office suffered damage.
"I don't know if we are printing papers now," he said. "We have a copy desk set up in New Braunfels. It's unknown when we will be able to get those papers to the readers, especially on the island, given the situation with rescue efforts going on there, and the curfew. Only emergency operations are being allowed to cross the causeway."
He said publication of the online version of the newspaper also was hampered.
"If you try our website and it doesn't come up and gives you an error, try again because there are a lot of people trying to look and that is making it run slow," Cox said.
Guidry News Service was named the Public Information Office for Galveston County for the two weeks following the storm. Regional and national media were calling for information and to confirm reports of casualties, rumored to be in the thousands.
"The rumors are not true," Guidry told the Houston Chronicle. Article
Several contributors shared their photos of Ike with Guidry News Service. More
Guidry News Service Managing Editor Garrett Bryce and Webmaster Jason Adriance joined the team at the EOC, where we continued to publish GuidryNews.com, The Online News Station, and Gulf Coast E-news.
On September 16, Judge Yarbrough reported that progress was being made on recovery efforts from Hurricane Ike. He said search and rescue efforts were continuing on the Bolivar Peninsula. More
A major problem on the peninsula was that there was no ferry service and no access from Highway 124 at High Island. The bridge at Rollover Pass was destroyed. Yarbrough said the damage on the peninsula was "so substantial that we're not likely to return to normal operations for a long time."
However Vance Redden, a GuidryNews.com contributor, was able to cross the damaged bridge at Rollover Pass to visit his property on the Bolivar Peninsula. More w/photos
President George W. Bush visited Coast Guard Air Station Houston following the storm. Photo
Galveston County Health Authority Dr. Mark Guidry toured the Bolivar Peninsula and talked to GuidryNews.com about what he saw. More
Displaced residents of the Bolivar Peninsula were eager for information and Catherine Jackson presented a list of questions for Judge Yarbrough, which he answered. Interview
Guidry News Service also launched a new Hurricane Ike Bulletin Board to permit individual residents, non-profit organizations and governments to communicate. Board
On September 18, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read met with reporters at the Houston-Galveston National Weather Service Office that he previously directed. Interview
"No two storms are alike, and Ike is a very good example of that," he said. "We had storm surge flooding...of thousands of houses outside the levee system in Southeast Lousiana. So all the way from Southeast Louisiana down to Matagorda Bay had some sort of storm surge flooding out of this storm."
Read stressed that the standard for measuring hurricanes, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, is based on wind speed, not storm surge.
"Storm surge varies," he said, noting that a number of variables, such as the near shore continental shelf, determine storm surge. "Every place along the coast you would have to have a different storm surge paramater if that was to be tied to a scale. So, no one scale is going to fit; it's different for each community."
Port Arthur spokesman Sergeant Ken Carona updated GuidryNews.com on the situation in his Southeast Texas city. Interview
On Thursday following the storm the Laura Recovery Center, in cooperation with the Galveston County Emergency Management Office, activated a hotline for those searching for missing friends and family who live in the unincorporated areas of the county. More
On September 19, Judge Yarbrough hosted a meeting in the board room of the Emergency Communications District for mayors, council members and staff of most of the municipal governments in Galveston County. More
Jamaica Beach Mayor Vic Pierson requested that the public information office broadcast a brief interview to the news media regarding the ability of his residents to return to their homes. More
"It is a very stressful time and a frustrating time for our citizens," Pierson said. "We are really not in control of our ingress and egress to the City."
Pierson was concerned that police blocking residents from returning to the city of Galveston were not permitting residents to return to Jamaica Beach as well. He said that he was working with the City of Galveston to arrange for a specific day for Jamaica Beach residents to "look and leave". Pierson said that police were patrolling the streets to protect against looters, which had not been a problem.
On September 24, Texas Governor Rick Perry met with elected officials and emergency management personnel at the Galveston County Emergency Operations Center in Dickinson. After the meeting, he met with reporters. More
"The local elected officials are the real foundation of our response by the State," Perry said. "Their pre-planning and working with Jack Colley and Steve McCraw, our Homeland Security Director, I think has been a reflection in the State of how you deal with a major event like this."
Perry complimented the County of Galveston for its construction of the Emergency Operations Center in Dickinson.
"I think America saw a very thoughtful and lifesaving evacuation process," Perry said. "And then the largest search and rescue operation that the State of Texas has ever been involved in."
Judge Yarbrough participated in the news conference with Perry, then met with a few reporters in his temporary office at the Galveston County EOC. More
After the Hurricane
The 22nd annual Texas General Land Office Adopt-A-Beach Fall Cleanup was held as scheduled, along the lower Texas Coast but not in the areas impacted by Ike. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson talked to Guidry News Service about the cleanup and issues related to Ike. More
On September 25, Jim O'Donnel of the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory reported that his facilities were destroyed by the storm surge, wave action and hurricane force winds of Hurricane Ike. More
On September 26, residents and property owners were lined up for miles when officials began permitting them to drive across the storm damaged bridge at Rollover Pass. Judge Yarbrough reported that the first day of the "look and leave" program went well. More
By October 2, Guidry News Service had moved from the Emergency Operations Center into a temporary office in Texas City. We published an update on operations and some comments on the way the hurricane was handled by public officials. More
On October 13, the City of Galveston held a press conference to give an update on the status of the island since Hurricane Ike's landfall one month earlier. More
"We have a very long way to go on the island," said Mayor Thomas.
On October 15, the Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership's monthly luncheon provided an update by the leaders of Harris, Brazoria and Galveston counties on the impact of Hurricane Ike. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Brazoria County Commissioner Matt Sebesta and Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough reported on the preparations for the hurricane and the progress toward recovery in the three counties. More
On January 22, 2009 City Manager Steve LeBlanc asked the Galveston County Health District to report that tests by the University of Texas Medical Branch revealed that sediment from Hurricane Ike was not posing a major public health concern. More
However, the statement was qualified.
“The fact that the levels are not a major health threat is good news," said Galveston County Health Authority Dr. Mark Guidry. "However, we still encourage residents to protect themselves when handling any unknown substance in the environment. Wear a protective mask to avoid inhaling dusts, and wear gloves and protective clothing to avoid skin exposure. Avoid bringing dust and contaminated items into your home. Always wash and clean up prior to eating.”
The stately one hundred year old trees of Galveston Island were major victims of the toxic storm surge.
On May 10, 2009, Guidry News Service spent the morning documenting the deaths of many of the oak trees on Broadway but also noted the new blooms on the oleanders lining 25th Street. That day the wildflowers in the historic cemetery on Broadway Boulevard also showed hope for the future. More
As expansive as this essay is, it only touches the surface of the articles that Guidry News Service published during and after Hurricane Ike. Many of those are posted on our Hurricane Ike Archives Page.
As this review of Hurricane Ike is being published, City of Galveston officials, members of the Galveston Long Range Recovery Committee and others are preparing to host events to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the new Great Storm.
Of greater significance, a committee headed by former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is considering a plan for six Texas counties - Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Orange, Chambers and Jefferson - to form a storm surge suppression zone.
Projects such as Dr. Bill Merrell's proposed Ike Dike will be considered by the group.
For continuing coverage of the Hurricane Ike Recovery, and for up-to-the-minute news of any future threats to the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast, you may depend on GuidryNews.com
Thanks very much for all who have contributed to this coverage:
The list includes Managing Editor Garrett Bryce, Special Assistant Ashley Ayala, Webmaster and IT Consultant Jason Adriance, Jefferson County Representative Carl Guidry, photographers Robert Mihovil and Juan Peña, the elected and appointed public officials who were accessible and provided reliable information during and after the storm, our subscribers and advertisers who have continued to support us throughout the years, and expecially Lynda Guidry who had not planned to become a journalist until she married me and we started this world wide news service in 1996.