Storm Debris Blocks Roads To Galveston

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Thousands of people living on the Texan coastline ignored evacuation orders to escape Hurricane Ike's destruction, and now most roads are impassible, which has left many people stranded.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

As you just heard, many of the roads near the Texas coast are impassable, littered with debris left behind by Hurricane Ike. NPR's Ari Shapiro discovered that for himself yesterday when he drove from Houston south towards Galveston. He passed a police checkpoint and came to a stop on the interstate a few miles north of where the storm barreled ashore.

ARI SHAPIRO: Wow. Right under the sign that says I-45 south to Galveston there is a huge boat turned on its side and then just trash stretching on after that for as far as I can see. Let's get out and take a look.

(Soundbite of Shapiro exiting vehicle)

SHAPIRO: Well, this is the reason we're not going to be able to get into Galveston by road today. There's just the most random assortment of trash I've ever seen here. There are huge boards and logs. There are boats turned upside down. There's a street sign right here.

(Soundbite of clanking metal)

SHAPIRO: A guy told us he just stepped on a rattlesnake. There's a great big blue trashcan and a mailbox that says the Galveston County Daily News on it.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

SHAPIRO: A shiny green Christmas tree ornament. Here comes four guys with their pet dog. Hey there. Will you tell me your name?

Mr. DUSTIN RHOADES (Resident, Bayou Vista, Texas): Dustin Rhoades.

SHAPIRO: Do you live around here?

Mr. RHOADES: Yeah, I live right here in Bayou Vista.

SHAPIRO: Are you going to try to get home today?

Mr. RHOADES: Oh, no. We ain't getting home today. There ain't no way, ain't no way. We're hoping there wasn't water in our upstairs. I've heard about five foot of water in people's upstairs.

SHAPIRO: In the upstairs?

Mr. RHOADES: Upstairs.

SHAPIRO: So does that mean, the downstairs is...

Mr. RHOADES: Oh, downstairs is gone. Downstairs is completely underwater. But our washer and dryer is upstairs. We got a refrigerator, it's gone.

SHAPIRO: You think you might find it washed up on the interstate here?

Mr. RHOADES: I wouldn't be surprised. Listen, I'm going to catch up with my friends.

SHAPIRO: All right. Yeah. Take care.

Trucks are coming through on the wrong side of the freeway towing boats behind them, presumably for rescue operations. The water is washing up onto the interstate here. A couple of cormorants are overhead, trying to fly into the wind, and they're going backwards. They keep pumping their wings, and they're not making any progress.

Do you mind talking to us for a second? We're with National Public Radio.

Mr. JODIE BERRYHILL: Sure.

SHAPIRO: Could you tell me your name?

Mr. BERRYHILL: Jodie Berryhill. My friends live in Galveston. I was trying to get - check on them. Apparently, there's no way in. I've tried every way, and this is the last resort.

SHAPIRO: Did you try to persuade them not to stay there?

Mr. BERRYHILL: Yeah. They were not planning on staying there if it got really bad, but it happened so quickly, you know. All of a sudden the next morning it's coming over the sea wall, and it was too late to get out.

SHAPIRO: They're saying the storm surge was only 11 feet, not the 25 that they were expecting. Does that make you feel any better?

Mr. BERRYHILL: If it would've been 25 it'd be a lot worse. We wouldn't be standing here right now, I don't think.

SHAPIRO: Well, as it is we're standing in the middle of an interstate.

Mr. BERRYHILL: Yeah, exactly. And look at this mess.

SHAPIRO: Now that Ike has passed, crews are going to start cleaning up this mess so that the people who fled Galveston before the storm can get back home. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, standing on I-45 between Houston and Galveston.

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Remnants Of Lives Litter Highway To Galveston

A boat overturned on the highway. i

A boat overturned on I-45, a few miles outside Galveston. Marisa Penaloza/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza/NPR
A boat overturned on the highway.

A boat overturned on I-45, a few miles outside Galveston.

Marisa Penaloza/NPR
Debris is piled up on the freeway outside Galveston. i

Debris is piled up on the southbound lane of the Gulf Freeway. Marisa Penaloza/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza/NPR
Debris is piled up on the freeway outside Galveston.

Debris is piled up on the southbound lane of the Gulf Freeway.

Marisa Penaloza/NPR
A pumpkin. i

Everything from boats and suitcases to a carved pumpkin and toys litters the highway. Marisa Penaloza/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza/NPR
A pumpkin.

Everything from boats and suitcases to a carved pumpkin and toys litters the highway.

Marisa Penaloza/NPR
The storm surge reached 11 feet in Galveston. i

The storm surge reached 11 feet in Galveston. Marisa Penaloza/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza/NPR
The storm surge reached 11 feet in Galveston.

The storm surge reached 11 feet in Galveston.

Marisa Penaloza/NPR

Highway I-45 from Houston to Galveston, or the Gulf Freeway, was surprisingly clear a few hours after Hurricane Ike came ashore. Along the way, Ike marked its path: torn-down billboards, flooded side roads and patches of debris on the road.

The strongest evidence of the huge storm was visible just outside the island city of Galveston: The highway was partially blocked by people's lives — everything from boats, suitcases, a carved pumpkin and other home decorations to chairs, kayaks, toys, wood and other building materials was piled up all over the southbound lane. The northbound lane was clear, but opened strictly to rescue operation vehicles.

Ike is the largest hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in nearly 50 years. The enormous storm covered nearly 600 miles across, almost as large as the entire state of Texas. The hurricane's center bore down on Galveston, making landfall early Saturday as a Category 2 storm and bringing in winds of 110 mph. The storm surge reached 11 feet in Galveston and 13.5 feet near Sabine Pass.

Dustin Rhoades, 19, a hand on a shrimp boat, is walking on I-45 with friends. Ike left him without a home and without a job, at least for now. He and his family live in Bayou Vista. The family evacuated to Houston, but Rhoades and his friends came here to see if they could check on their homes, even if from afar. He's not too optimistic given what he sees on the highway.

"Oh man, it's crazy," he says. "There's boats all on the freeway here. It's crazy."

Rhoades hopes water didn't reach the second floor of his house, although he's sure his house is flooded. "Oh, downstairs is gone. Completely under water."

Even though the island was under mandatory evacuation, many residents decided to ride out the storm. Authorities estimate there are about 140,000 or more residents who stayed behind despite warnings they could die.

Earlier Saturday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry warned that no one would be allowed back on Galveston except emergency personnel. He said people already on the island could stay, but anyone who leaves won't be allowed back in until the island is deemed safe.

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