Galveston Residents Stay Put Despite Devastation 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 degrading. And some who weathered the storm on the island — despite dire evacuation orders from officials — remain defiant.
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Galveston Residents Stay Put Despite Devastation

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Galveston Residents Stay Put Despite Devastation

Galveston Residents Stay Put Despite Devastation

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Days ago, Galveston, Texas, took a big hit from Hurricane Ike, and now it's moving from the search-and-rescue phase to the cleanup phase. Emergency crews have combed nearly the entire island looking for survivors and victims. The death toll so far has been low. NPR's John Burnett reports from Galveston.

JOHN BURNETT: A sound that will become increasingly familiar in the next few weeks...

(Soundbite of mud shoveling)

Mr. TOMMY LACROY (Proprietor, Bistro LaCroy): Just a little debris from old Ike.

BURNETT: Shoveling mud.

Mr. LECROY: I'm Tommy LaCroy, and my restaurant is Bistro LaCroy.

BURNETT: How did it do?

Mr. LACROY: No, it didn't. So it's going to be rebuilt. 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 we ate all the good steaks last night.

BURNETT: Galveston's hospitality is intact, but the beach-front city, once the jewel of Texas, has taken a terrible pounding. Tommy LaCroy, a Louisiana native with a graying pony tail, has already decided to rebuild his popular seafood restaurant that he literally built with his own hands. It's located on the historic Strand, which took more water than anyone would have imagined.

Mr. LACROY: There's the water. I'm six feet, so, what do you want to call it? Six-and-a-half feet?

BURNETT: Conditions in Galveston are degenerating day by day. And yet, many residents still here seem unconcerned. Some pedal bicycles languidly under the spreading oaks. Others sit on front stoops, sipping beer. Though more than 3,000 additional citizens have evacuated in the past two days, there are still too many left, says city manager Steve LeBlanc.

Mr. STEVE LEBLANC (Galveston City Manager): Quite frankly, we are reaching a health crisis for those that are remaining on the island. We estimate there are about 15 to 20,000 people still on the island. We have, I mean, the same things: no water, no sewer, no electricity, no gas.

BURNETT: LeBlanc asked the holdouts to leave and for those who were gone, to stay away. But Galvestonians are an independent lot, and some of those remaining on the island don't like the emerging post-hurricane nanny state taking over their lives telling them when they can come back to look at their damaged houses. Jacquelyn Tarpy-Stanowski, a photographer who moved here with her husband from Phoenix, says islanders are self-sufficient. Many are carpenters. They can fix their own houses. Let them come back.

Ms. JACQUELYN TARPY-STANOWSKI (Photographer, Galveston, Texas): I think the government has a wonderful place in our lives, but they can't treat us like children. You know, we do know what to do.

BURNETT: She had heard a troubling rumor that search and rescue crews were going house to house kicking in doors, looking for survivors. So she and her husband, David, a financial analyst, took the pre-emptive action of hanging a plywood sign on the front of their century-old house. It declares in large letters, "Jacquelyn and Steve are OK."

Ms. TARPY-STANOWSKI: So, we thought, well, we'll just spray paint a sign and say we're here, and we're fine, and they don't have to kick in our door.

BURNETT: The experience of Hurricane Ike has pushed many people out of their comfort zones and taught them skills they may not have realized they had. Take Jillian Williams, a bashful 19-year-old with wavy blond hair and a pink T-shirt. The night before the storm hit, she piloted a 70-foot deep sea fishing boat for 12 hours from Galveston, 40 miles through the raging Gulf, 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.

Ms. JILLIAN WILLIAMS (Galveston Resident) Well, actually going down the Gulf was pretty scary, because, you know, I hadn't been out in that rough of weather in a long time. And driving it all by myself, it was a little nerve-wracking. But Dad was on the radio the whole time telling me I was doing a good job, and so it made me feel a lot better. We drove all the way from nine o'clock at night to about nine the next morning. It was an interesting trip.

BURNETT: In addition to finishing college, Jillian Williams now wants to get her captain's license. John Burnett, NPR News, Galveston.

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