With only five months since Hurricane Ike tore through the popular vacation spot, leaving over $11 billion dollars in damage, Galveston now only has a few weeks until the spring break season starts.
With spring break approaching quickly, many students have the possible destinations on their minds. Galveston Island is typically a popular spring break destination with an estimated 10,000 visitors during the season.
“I do not want to go to a place that is not safe,” Amber Holey, TJC student, said. “I am a little wary about going to a place that was underwater five months ago.”
Holey’s concern about the safety of the island is a real one. Because the storm was just a few months ago, the possibility of all the small things being cleaned off the beach is a small chance. Even if there are no planks of wood or chunks of concrete on the beach, that does not mean that smaller items such as nails, splinters, and iron rods are not still buried in the sand, waiting for an unsuspecting person to stumble upon it.
“Right now there is glass and trash in and on top of the sand… I was running on the beach and stepped on something blunt that bruised the bottom of my foot,” Lauren Smith, Texas A&M Galveston student, said.
The task to clean up the damaged city has been a mammoth project.
“The city has taken great measures to pick up debris and to repair the beaches,” RoShelle Gaskins, public relations manager with Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.
But the damage was not isolated tothe beach. At one point up to 16 feet of water covered the island.
“Most of the buildings just had flooding and no structural damage. Those
buildings have been properly cleaned and cleared of mold that had formed,” Gaskins said.
As one of the island’s premier socializing and shopping hot spots, The Strand being open and ready for visitors is important. As of Feb. 8, many of the buildings still had wood over the windows, staircases missing and caution tape around banisters.
“The Strand is trying to open in stages. In two weeks, we expect for another wave of businesses to open for Mardi Gras, and then more to be open for spring break,” Gaskins said.
The Mardi Gras celebration is set for Feb. 24.
Before Ike, Galveston had about 5,000 hotel rooms available but now is left with less than 2,000, and not that many more rooms may open before spring break beings. The FEMA deadline for financial aid of any kind is set for mid-March, and the island is hoping to have more hotels open by then.
Also, the businesses that were built on piers that were destroyed are rumored to be re-building, according to Gaskins. Those places include the Balinese Room, Murdock’s and Hooters. The Flagship, a hotel that was also on a pier and suffered significant damage, will be repaired and re-opened.
According to Gaskins, the sea wall is structurally sound and is part of the reason that Galveston was not washed away altogether. The sea wall did suffer from damage, though. In many places along the 10-mile stretch of concrete, the sidewalk is completely gone. Railings on staircases are bent and barriers are in place around spots where the concrete is breaking. New sand has been put on the beaches, and the water around Galveston has been cleared of any possible debris as best as can be possibly done.
In the aftermath of Ike, the city also has begun a Beach Nourishment Program, which is meant to clean up the beach and help with any dirty sand. Because of the Open Beaches Act, all of the beaches must be open, and the City of Galveston and the Corps of Engineers have been working to put sand on the areas of the beach where the sand was the most eroded.
To draw visitors back, the island is offering discounted rates on hotels and activities such as a free movie showing on The Strand, live music and entertainment, and a Penguin encounter. According to Gaskins, any money that is made over the season will help to economically stimulate the city and its move toward recovery.
“Any money that is made during spring break will help with the recovery efforts,” Gaskins said.