Hurricane-Hit Galveston Celebrates Dickens Anyway Every year for the last 35 years, the first weekend in December on Galveston Island, Texas, was all about Charles Dickens. The two-day festival celebrates the Victorian-era author on the island's famed downtown strip known as the Strand. Nearly three months ago, Hurricane Ike decimated the area. But despite the destruction, the festival will go on.

Hurricane-Hit Galveston Celebrates Dickens Anyway

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Every year for the last 35 years, the first weekend in December on Galveston Island, Texas has been about Charles Dickens. The two-day festival celebrates the author on the island's famed downtown strip known as the Strand. Nearly three month ago, Hurricane Ike decimated the area. As Julie Moody of member station KUT reports, despite that destruction, the festival will today go on.

JULIE MOODY: You can't escape the sound of generators anywhere in downtown Galveston.

(Soundbite of generators)

MOODY: Blue tape marks how high the storm surge reached most buildings, 12 feet in some places. Of the 100 stores here, fewer than a half dozen have reopened. Besides the restoration efforts, there are others sounds of progress.

(Soundbite of hammering)

MOODY: Volunteer Joe O'Drobinak(ph) hammers together booths for this weekend's Dickens on the Strand festival, booths that will be filled with Victorian costume vendors.

Mr. MICHAEL CULPEPPER(ph) (Owner, Antique Shop): A couple of years ago, we designated Dickens as a celebration of the end hurricane season, which ends November 30th. So the first weekend in December is traditionally Dickens weekend. And so, it's another - just another little shot in the arm to celebrate and to open city up for the holidays.

MOODY: Michael Culpepper's nautical antique store is still closed. Two-thirds of the roof collapsed during Ike, and it's not repaired yet.

Mr. CULPEPPER: Yeah, this is what we call our ventilation system now.

MOODY: And you've got a great view of the sky.

Mr. CULPEPPER: We sure do.

MOODY: Amid wood carvings of turtles and big, glass fishing buoys hanging from the rafters, Culpepper says he's one of the lucky ones. Not only did he have wind and flood insurance, his inventory is salvaged from old ships, items that can weather any storm. He will sell his collectibles in one of the temporary booths.

While his business may get a boost this weekend, he has other problems. His historic homes sustained major damage.

Mr. CULPEPPER: We are progressing. Everything is moving forward. We invite the tourists and locals alike to embrace the island like it was before, and it's going to be better than it was before.

MOODY: And that's the kind of attitude Dwayne Jones likes to hear.

Mr. DWAYNE JONES (Executive Director, Galveston Historical Foundation): We had to get back together as a community. We had to get ready for the holidays. We had to clean up our streets.

MOODY: Jones is the executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation, which sponsors Dickens on the Strand.

Mr. JONES: So it's become a point were people said, you know what? I'll get ready for Dickens. And I'll be ready - I'll be open for Dickens, and we'll be back in town for Dickens, and those things. So we knew it was important for the community.

MOODY: Before Hurricane Ike, 60,000 people lived on Galveston Island. So far, fewer than half have returned. With the recent announcement that the University of Texas medical branch will lay off 3,000 people and news of a recession, Jones says this year's festival won't solve Galveston's problems but will give the community a sense of normalcy - at least for a weekend. For NPR News, I'm Julie Moody.

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