High Schoolers Document A Year After Hurricane Ike
LYNN NEARY, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
This morning, many residents of Galveston, Texas are gathering for a sunrise church service a year to the day when Hurricane Ike roared through their city. A group of Galveston high schoolers began marking the day months ago. They made a documentary film, "Ike: The Story of a Torn City Rebuilt by Everyday Heroes."
Unidentified Woman #1: People were calling in saying, I can't get out. The water's up to here. I have children.
Unidentified Man: The water came up all the way to the second story. And you know, it's like, is it getting any higher? Are we going to have to get out and swim? You know, it was pretty scary.
Unidentified Woman #2: I felt okay until the parking garage started rocking a bit.
NEARY: Our story is reported by the Hurricane Storytellers of Galveston and produced by NPR's John Burnett.
Ms. JENNIFER WILLCUT (Narrator, "Ike: The Story of a Torn City Rebuilt by Everyday Heroes"): My name is Jennifer Willcut. I'm 18 years old and a graduate of Ball High School in Galveston. A year ago, my family was evacuated to Houston as the gulf rose up and swallowed our home. Ike ruined the first floor. My mom and dad are still living on the second floor today. I was one of the 15 student directors for the Ike documentary. NPR asked us if we would be the reporters on this story about Galveston a year after the storm.
(Soundbite of deli)
Ms. WILLCUT: And so we're returning to some of the people who we interviewed for the documentary just to see how they're doing.
I'm here today with A.R. Lucas, the shop owner of Luke's Deli. Mr. Lucas, could you state your name and profession for us?
Mr. A.R. LUCAS (Owner, Luke's Little Supermarket and Deli): A.R. Lucas, I own Luke's Little Supermarket and Deli, one's on Stewart Road and one's here on Harborside.
Ms. WILLCUT: One store got seven feet of seawater, the other had two feet. But Mr. Lucas had a far greater loss. He stepped on a nail when he was walking around in the floodwaters. His right leg got infected and it had to be amputated.
How has Ike affected you the most?
Mr. LUCAS: It's put me out of business. It's cost me my leg. It's kicked my butt pretty good. But I'm headstrong. I'm not afraid of challenges. I've already got a prosthetic fit for me and I'm in rehab right now learning to deal with it. And time marches on.
Ms. WILLCUT: Mr. Lucas sat in his wheelchair in his store, which is dark and full of empty shelves now. What we learned when we made the documentary is that a lot of Galvestonians are like Mr. Lucas: They don't want to leave their island.
Mr. LUCAS: It must be some kind of a magnetic draw. They say you just got that sand between your toes and there ain't nothing you can do about it.
(Soundbite of conversation)
Ms. WILLCUT: Galveston had about 60,000 people before the hurricane. About 75 percent of the population has returned. Nobody knows if the rest will come back or not.
Dolph Tillotson, publisher of the Galveston County Daily News, has been printing stories every day about the city's recovery. Given Galveston's history with devastating storms, we wanted to know what he thinks the future holds.
My friend, Natalie, who worked on this project with me, talked to him.
Ms. JENNIFER MARTIN (Narrator, "Ike: The Story of a Torn City Rebuilt by Every Day Heroes"): Is the island in some way diminished since the storm?
Mr. DOLPH TILLOTSON (Publisher, Galveston County Daily News): I think Galveston is going to be smaller for some time to come. In the 1900 storm, 6,000 people were killed. And many people at that time thought our community will never recover from that. But the community did recover. People did forget. People did come home. And so I expect that very, very gradually you'll see that begin to happen.
Ms. WILLCUT: On the surface, a year after the storm, Galveston is looking better each day. Most of the shops along the historic downtown Strand are back. The Moody Garden's Amusement Park has opened. All the restaurants and hotels on the seawall are open. But the Flagship Hotel is still a wreck and the famous Balinese Room was blown away forever. Some of the hardest hit neighborhoods were places tourists never see, like the public housing projects in Hollywood Heights.
My co-director, Mamie Aoughsten(ph), interviewed the mayor, Lyda Ann Thomas.
Ms. MAMIE AOUGHSTEN (Narrator, "Ike: The Story of a Torn City Rebuilt by Every Day Heroes"): How much of the city is still damaged?
Mayor LYDA ANN THOMAS (Galveston, Texas): I think that the devastation is scattered throughout the city. You'll see blocks where there's - everything has been restored and people are living there. And then you'll see blocks where - and especially north of Broadway - where it's very dark at night because the residents have not returned, the houses are in such bad condition that they'll have to be demolished. So there's good parts and bad parts.
Ms. WILLCUT: It may sound strange, but what people are grieving most is the loss of thousands of our trees. Saltwater poisoned their roots. The oleanders and palm trees survived but all the graceful old live oaks are dead. The oaks were all the same age, about a century old. They were planted after the Great 1900 storm killed off an earlier generation of Galveston's trees.
Mayor THOMAS: History does repeat itself. We're just bare.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mayor THOMAS: Our clothes are gone, our canopies, our shade, bird nests. Our trees will be replanted. The city's not going to look the same without the trees. But 10 or 15 years from now, barring other catastrophes, our trees will be here.
Ms. WILLCUT: Hurricane Ike has forced people in Galveston to answer the same question that Hurricane Katrina forced on the people of New Orleans: How bad do you love your city? How bad do you want to live there?
Dr. ERIC AVERY (Psychiatry Professor, University of Texas Medical Branch): I'm Eric Avery. I'm an artist, printmaker and also a doctor.
Ms. WILLCUT: Dr. Eric Avery is a professor of psychiatry at the University Of Texas Medical Branch, the island's biggest employer. It suffered more than a billion dollars in flood damage and had to lay off 3,000 people, a quarter of its staff.
As an artist, the damage to Dr. Avery's printmaking studio has cost him dearly in time and expense.
Dr. AVERY: You know, what I've decided, Jennifer, is I'm going to go through it one more time. And if we get a big flood again or a hurricane comes again like this, I mean I'll clean up that mess. But, you know, I'm 60. I love Galveston. I love riding my bike around and the restaurants. I'm close to work. But I can't keep going through this. So I'm going to give it one more shot. And then I'm out of here.
Ms. WILLCUT: I'm out of here, anyway. I'm a freshman at Stephen F. Austin State University in East Texas. I know I want to be a filmmaker, but I don't know if I'll ever move back to the island again.
(Soundbite of water)
Ms. WILLCUT: Before the storm, I didn't really have a healthy relationship with Galveston. Even after living here on this barrier island for eight years, it was mainly a tourist town to me; a beach with weird restaurants and cool piers.
All I cared about was my movie theater and my favorite coffee shop down on The Strand. But after the storm hit, all these emotions came out. I realized Galveston is this treasure with a rich history and generations of families, some of whose great-grandparents came through the 1900 storm. Now I appreciate Galvestonians more than ever before.
I guess I'm not an objective journalist on this story because I went through the pain and the confusion of Ike. And now I'm rejoicing along with everybody else that our island has survived.
For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Willcut with the Hurricane Storytellers.
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