Residents Return To Galveston, Texas

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Authorities in Texas have begun allowing residents to return to Galveston Island to begin their lives again after Hurricane Ike. One lifelong resident who has returned says Galveston Island looks like "one great, big toilet bowl."


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. Today, Galveston began going home. More than 40,000 people left the island, escaping from the winds and water and destruction of Hurricane Ike. Well, this morning, thousands of them lined up to go back on the island. NPR's Noah Adams sent us this report.

NOAH ADAMS: I met a woman who has been wandering after the hurricane, evacuated, went off to Austin to stay with friends, then Dallas, then two other towns. Now, she's back in Galveston, and here's what hometown now looks like to Evony Smith(ph).

Ms. EVONY SMITH: Excuse my French, but it looks like one great, big toilet bowl, never been flushed.

ADAMS: She has been to see her old apartment, couldn't even get the front door open. Evony Smith is what they call BOI, Born On Island, but she will leave for good.

But you're not going to stay?

Ms. SMITH: No, sir, I've been here 28 years, born and raised. And you get tired of running. So the best thing for me to do, since I have two little children, two little boys, is to find somewhere where we don't have to worry about hurricane season.

ADAMS: Perhaps thousands of people were here this morning in time to see a Galveston sunrise. They had been waiting out on the interstate at a checkpoint. Some people had been in line since 3 a.m. There was concern about gridlock. The police even had ambulances and porta-potties in place. They waved the drivers on early, about 20 minutes before 6, and Lieutenant Jorge Trevino was pleased at how things went.

Lieutenant JORGE TREVINO (Galveston Police Department): Very smoothly. As you can see, we have no backups. We got traffic-control points with officers manning them. And everything's flowing and going as well as can be expected.

ADAMS: Here, the cars are coming off Interstate 45, the Broadway exit into Galveston. They see the police officers and pause just briefly, and someone hands them a flier; it's a list of information about what's going on in town. Then they move on quickly. They see a fire truck, a big American flag on top, a spray-painted sign that says, the Galveston firefighters welcome you home.

(Soundbite of trucks)

ADAMS: In an empty Galveston field, giant trucks hauling in debris are building a small, nasty mountain. This is trash that once had purpose, all of it ruined by the hurricane. I talked with Tommy Wittman(ph) in a gas-station parking lot. He was waiting for the safety of daylight so he could go cut up trees. Yesterday, he killed seven snakes.

Mr. TOMMY WITTMAN: Oh, I'll give anybody this advice. If you're here in Galveston, and you pick up something off the ground, you better make sure that you look what's up under it because it could be a possible baby rattlesnake. They're everywhere.

ADAMS: Those coming back to live here are told, bring your own food. Drink only bottled water. Don't expect the electricity to be back on tomorrow. Notice the traffic signals usually don't work. The sewer system is iffy. Don't swim in the Gulf of Mexico. And at night, the city is dark with a curfew still in effect.

Mr. DOUG DICKERSON(ph): We just now got here on the island.

ADAMS: Doug Dickerson came around midday. He lives in a sturdy, brick apartment building, renting the second floor.

Mr. DICKERSON: We lost a lot of the roof so if it rains, I get water in my kitchen and my living room. But I can deal with that. You know, the most important thing that we need is electricity.

ADAMS: Dickerson is new to the island, but he is staying. He wants to see it cleaned up.

Mr. DICKERSON: We don't want diseases to start running rampant. We want to make it safe for people to come back and for their kids to be able to walk maybe down the sidewalk and not getting tetanus shots that night.

ADAMS: Galveston rebuilds with resilient residents, city employees, sunburned electric workers from out of state, and lots of volunteers - and possibly lots of federal money. The city's mayor is asking Washington for $2.3 billion. Noah Adams, NPR News, Galveston, Texas.

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