4 years later, communities still feeling effect of Ike
GALVESTON, TX -- There was a time Galveston tourism officials would avoid using the word Ike.
Four years after the most devastating storm since Hurricane Carla struck the Texas Coast in 1961, Hurricane Ike is no longer talked about in hushed tones or avoided; it's become common within the island's promotion vernacular.
"The big effort after Ike was to forget about it," Leah Cast, the public relations manager for the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau said. "Now, all the historic tours point out the water marks. It's kind of ingrained in everything we promote anyway. Now we kind of push it as, `Look how far we have come in four years."'
That's pretty far if the summer tourism figures are any indication. Cast said it was "the best we've had in years."
Guy Taylor Jr., owner of the Stork Club on Post Office Street in Galveston, doesn't shy away from telling people what impact Ike had on his building. You can't get through the front door without a reminder how much higher the water level was from Ike when compared to Carla, the 1900 Storm and the 1915 Storm.
There's even a marker for Hurricane Alicia, albeit it sits at the bottom of the front entrance. The Ike waterline sign stands higher than 8 feet outside the building at the corner of Post Office and 21st streets.
Visitors constantly stop to take pictures with the markers, Taylor said.
Tourists, it would seem, can't learn enough about the flood the storm caused four years ago.
Taylor doesn't need a sign to remind him. He lived in and waded through waist-deep water the day the storm made landfall on Sept. 13, 2008.
"A lot of people who see (the signs) are so surprised because I don't think Galveston got nearly the press coverage from the national level. Hurricane Ike, people think, because it was a (Level) 2 Hurricane that it wasn't that big a deal. People from out of town, their first reaction is they are overwhelmed by how high the water was in Ike compared to all the other storms."
Cast thinks the attention will pick up again next year, the fifth anniversary of the storm. In fact, the tourist bureau is planning an aggressive promotion to mark the anniversary as part of its efforts to promote a new Golden Era of Galveston, using the island's history of recovering from storms as a way to attract visitors.
The tourist bureau even publishes a guide noting the artwork that came from trees killed by Ike's surge that have since been carved into works of art across Galveston.
Ike, it seems, is still on the minds of visitors who stop in and chat with Wendy Pierce, who is the coordinator for the Kemah Visitor's Center. Ike's storm surge did a number on Kemah as well, destroying historic homes and buildings and shutting down -- for a while -- the biggest tourist draw to the city, the Kemah Boardwalk.
Pierce said every day someone asks about what impact the storm had on the community and inquires about the devastation.
"Galveston, of course, was headlined much more than Kemah was, so I have people who ask if we were hit, too," Pierce said. "I tell them, of course, and they want to know what the devastation was like."
Pierce isn't shy about telling them how high the water got or what was destroyed. But she also tells the story of how Landry's got much of the Boardwalk reopened not long after the storm had passed and how much of the rebuild was done quickly.
There are a few reminders in Kemah of the devastation, including a waterline inside the Landry's Restaurant on the Boardwalk that fascinates tourists, Pierce said.
Pam Adams has no problem telling her story to anyone who is willing to sit down have a cold one and some barbecue from the place she and her husband own in Gilchrist near Rollover Pass on the Bolivar Peninsula.
It's not the barbecue that made Pam and her husband Warren famous. They're better known as the owners of "the last house standing" in Gilchrist.
An aerial photo captured the image of total devastation of the community with the exception of one house that stood tall. The house is still there, the Adamses are still there and the visitors and media still want to know about the house.
"People are just amazed it's still standing," Adams said. "People come into our barbecue stand (across the street) and look at the house. They take pictures in front of it."
Even the placemats at Adams' FantaSea Barbecue joint feature photos that resemble the iconic image first captured by Ray Asgar, an Austin-based helicopter pilot who flew over the peninsula a few days after Ike struck.
"There's a reason that house was still standing there," Adams said after she was asked if the constant questions and visitors get annoying after a while. "Maybe it was to give this loud mouth a (platform) to talk about what needed to be done to help Bolivar recover."
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