Galveston Residents Toil Through Ike Clean Up
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
It's been a week since Hurricane Ike slammed in the Galveston, Texas. People there are hot, tired and frustrated. They're pulling off plywood and shoveling sludge. The city still lacks water and power. The mayor says nobody can come back until the city is more livable. She assures them that she shares their frustration and anxiety. NPR's John Burnett reports.
JOHN BURNETT: When you close up a supermarket and turn off the power for six days, the produce section changes texture. The cantaloupe has fur.
NICK ARLAND: Yeah, it looks like something you'd see, like, in a haunted house. It's pretty gross. It almost looks like cobwebs. They're gross.
BURNETT: That's Nick Arland of Arland's Market on the east end of Galveston. Late this week, his employees were mopping up an evil, brown liquid from the floor, swabbing the fowl-smelling ice cream cases, tossing the brown meat and pulling all the unfrozen foods out. He's lucky the store didn't sustain any damage. His assistant manager, Becky Blaylock(ph), took care of the dairy products.
BECKY BLAYLOCK: The gallons of milk, the sides were just bulging out and it looked like they're about ready to explode. And they had just totally separated. The top half was cottage cheese, the bottom was just like this yucky-looking water. It was gross. Anyway, it's been interesting. I hope we don't ever have to do this again.
BURNETT: But they probably will. For a grocer on the Gulf Coast, hurricane evacuations are nothing new. With the staff working hard, Arland's hopes to open this weekend to sell non-perishables.
ARLAND: We just want to get open and get back to normal, you know, and just - there's a saying around here: all we want to do is sell groceries.
BURNETT: In hurricane recovery operations, grocery stores are considered essential businesses, along with gas stations, building supply houses and pharmacies. The state trooper checkpoint on Interstate 45 lets those business owners through. But they're not supposed to let anybody else onto the island, a policy that has caused considerable discontent.
P: Let us back home, please, Mayor. And then he added a bad word starting with "B" to describe the mayor. Then a police officer drove past and didn't like the bad word and decided to write Billy Prager a ticket.
SIMON: All right. This is a criminal mischief citation. This is for spray-painting graffiti on there, dated October 15th. Take care of it, OK? You need to sign here. If you want to contest, you need to come to court in 10 days before the date. You want to contest it?
BILLY PRAGER: Yeah.
Unidentified Police Officer: Sign over here.
PRAGER: I want to be (unintelligible). I shouldn't be treated like this (bleep). I was born on this island for sixty Goddamn years (unintelligible). Sixty years. And that (unintelligible) come by here with (unintelligible), and you won't let me go to my house.
BURNETT: After Prager calmed down, he grew moody. He says Ike washed away his livelihood.
PRAGER: All your shrimp houses, bait houses, fish houses, everything is out of business completely. The people you sell to, the canaries, everything. I didn't have no plans for this, you know, sudden stop like this here, being out of business. It's like death. You don't plan for it.
BURNETT: But people are basically resilient. Floods, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, they rebound, they rebuild. And so it is on Galveston Island. Tommy Martinez has a sign hanging in front of his rambling, three-storey house that reads...
TOMMY MARTINEZ: Ike can't bring us down because we (unintelligible). That's my sons. That's right. We had to clean up and keep going. I got to get back to work to make a living. They say it's the price of living in paradise.
BURNETT: Martinez, whose family owns a moving company, snuck past the highway checkpoint earlier this week so he could check on his house downtown. The tidal surge had reached chest high in his living room. By midday, every muck-encrusted thing from his first floor had been dragged onto the curb like the house had vomited out its contents.
MARTINEZ: Tools, compressors, saws, stereos, drum sets, TVs, bikes, motorcycles, tots, late benches, you know, lawn mowers, washer dryers, all the kids' little car things, all kinds of stuff.
BURNETT: But it's only stuff, he says.
MARTINEZ: My wife's alive. My kids are alive. All the rest of family is alive. Friends are alive. We all made it, that's all that matters. I work for a living. We got to work some more and get some more toys.
BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Galveston.