Galveston Residents Stay Put Despite Devastation

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Galveston, Texas, resident Bill Higgins walks over storm debris, searching for his neighbor's pets i

Galveston, Texas, resident Bill Higgins walks over Hurricane Ike debris on his way to search for his neighbor's pets Sept. 15, 2008. LM Otero/AP hide caption

itoggle caption LM Otero/AP
Galveston, Texas, resident Bill Higgins walks over storm debris, searching for his neighbor's pets

Galveston, Texas, resident Bill Higgins walks over Hurricane Ike debris on his way to search for his neighbor's pets Sept. 15, 2008.

LM Otero/AP

Galveston, Texas, is moving from the search-and-rescue phase to the cleanup phase after taking a big hit from Hurricane Ike. The death toll so far has been low, but conditions are degenerating day by day. And some who weathered the storm on the island — despite dire evacuation orders from officials — remain defiant.

Though more than 3,000 additional residents evacuated in the past two days, there are still too many left, says City Manager Steve LeBlanc. "Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for those that are remaining on the island. We estimate that there are about 15 [thousand] to 20,000 people still on the island. We have no water, no sewer, no electricity, no gas."

LeBlanc asked the holdouts to leave and urged those who evacuated to stay away. Yet many residents who stayed seem unconcerned. Some pedaled bicycles languidly under the spreading oaks; others sat on front stoops sipping beer.

For others, the hard work of rebuilding has begun, and the sounds of shoveling muck are becoming increasingly familiar. Tommy LaCroy, a Louisiana native with a graying ponytail, said he'll repair the popular seafood restaurant that he literally built with his hands.

"Come on in. You can see the water level. We will even offer you wine and a cold beer. So we're roughing it, but — well, we ate all the good steaks last night," he said.

Galveston's hospitality is intact, but the beachfront city, once the jewel of Texas, has taken a terrible pounding. The historic strand, where Bistro LaCroy is located, took on more water than anyone would have imagined.

"I'm 6 feet, so, what do you want to call it? Six-and-a-half feet?" LaCroy said while sloshing through his flooded bistro.

Still, Galvestonians are an independent lot, and some islanders don't appreciate the emerging post-hurricane nanny state taking over their lives, telling them when they can return to look at their damaged houses.

Jacquelyn Tarpy-Stanowski, a photographer who moved to Galveston from Phoenix, says islanders are self-sufficient: "Many of them are carpenters; they can fix their own houses. Let them come back."

Hurricane Ike uncovered skills that some islanders didn't know they had. Jillian Williams, a bashful 19-year-old with blond hair and a pink T-shirt, piloted a 70-foot deep-sea-fishing boat for 12 hours the night before the storm — from Galveston, down the intracoastal canal and finally to safe harbor in Aransas Pass. Her father, Johnny, a party-boat captain, was in the lead boat a quarter-mile ahead. Jillian says she now wants to get her captain's license.

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