A dead cow on the Bolivar Peninsula in the week after Hurricane Ike obliterated the area.
A dead cow on the Bolivar Peninsula in the week after Hurricane Ike obliterated the area. Wade Goodwyn/NPR
It has become clear that Galveston Island was nearly ruined by Hurricane Ike. But compared to the Bolivar Peninsula, just northeast of the island, Galveston was lucky. Instead of entire neighborhoods, entire towns disappeared.
Upon returning to Gilchrist, residents who had lived in the coastal town for more than half a century could not locate their houses or even figure out where their street had been.
On Wednesday, two dozen cowboys drove a thousand exhausted cattle up Route 124 to a fenced pasture. Everything on this road was so completely blasted by the hurricane that it's astounding all the livestock survived. Their fences did not make it, and for the last two days, cowboys on horseback have been driving the stressed cattle out of the marsh and slowly up the highway.
"They're tired — wore out," said Tony King, a member of the local sheriff's department. "It's not so much what they've been through today, but what they've been through since the storm."
The closer one gets to the Gulf, the more the landscape resembles something from a post-apocalyptic disaster movie. Cars and pickup trucks are half buried in the marsh as the coastal road disappears forever underneath dunes of sand.
On Wednesday, Gail and Boots Faggard clambered around a 25-foot recreational vehicle trailer that was lying on its side. Since the trailer door faced the ground, the couple went in and out through the blown out back window. Boots' eyes were red from crying and his arms red with blood in spots where he had cut himself on broken glass.
"I lived on Faggard Road in Gilchrist," he said. "And there is nothing left on Faggard Road."
Boots' parents helped settle Gilchrist in the 1920s, and he said he has seen plenty of hurricanes — but nothing like Ike. The town he was born and raised in is gone.
"I've lived here 66 years, and it was really tough to locate a landmark that I could tell where my street was," Boots said. "When you go down the street, there's nothing. There's nothing there."
Boots had difficulty discerning where his lot had been, never mind the house. It took him a while to identify what was once his street — eventually he placed the geography by using the remaining palm trees.
The Faggards have about four changes of clothes, their truck and their pet. Boots says he will start over again, but it is clear his heart is broken.
"It comes and goes," he said. "If you have enough idle time, you start remembering little details. I was just thinking about our coffee cups. We had a beautiful home."
A Rumor Mill
There are still several hundred people living — or stranded — on the Bolivar Peninsula. Helicopters are delivering supplies to most of the survivors, and some authorities say they are unhappy with the recalcitrant attitude of the nearly 300 citizens who insist on remaining with their property.
"If you get people off this island, it's a lot easier to sustain them than to be constantly using personnel to sustain them where they're at," said one Texas Ranger did not want to be identified.
But rumors fly among those who remain on the peninsula. Some say that once they leave, the government will never allow them back, and that the towns that have been wiped out won't be allowed to rebuild. Some fear that their coastal way of life is over for good.
"It's been a rumor mill," said Nicole Bodie, the wife of the local Methodist minister. "We hear things, and then we hear different things. The people that are supposed to be in charge here — they're creating the rumor mill."
Bodie said a group of residents were planning to meet after a church service to "try to calm the hysteria."
Many of the families were caught by surprise when, a day before the storm fully hit, Ike's surge swamped the roads and trapped them on the island.
Assistant fire chief Orbin Thompson said his department rescued about 20 people from chest-deep water before the rushing floods, and a lack of boats forced them to abandon the effort.
"[The storm] came a lot sooner than what everybody thought," Thompson said. "The Gulf of Mexico is unforgiving. It was very huge."