Five years ago today, Galveston County began to feel the devastating effects of Hurricane Ike as winds and water whipped from the savage storm swept across the area ahead of its landfall. The recovery for many took some time; even today some residents still are putting the pieces together. Here are the tales of a few who lost so much but were determined to persevere with life after Ike.
In the weeks after Hurricane Ike, corporate communications manager-turned Galveston Island Realtor Alice Melott was on the front porch of a historic home on Galveston’s East End and texted friends.
Within a month, the stories she was sharing turned to a blog that followed hers and the community’s struggles to recover.
Even then, she had a sense that despite the devastation, despite the dread of trying to rebuild, there was hope.
But as she often wrote, “Hope is not a strategy.”
“So to those who have said to me, ‘I could never survive what you’re going through,’ I say, yes, you certainly could,” Melott wrote in a Sept. 25, 2008, post.
“I’m not being Pollyanna; I’m not in denial. This is messy, inconvenient, life-altering. But it’s doable. I know that because even though I’m functionally homeless today, I’m in a perfectly comfortable motel with my pets and high-speed Internet and a free breakfast bar and my tax dollars are paying for it so that I don’t have to be under a bridge somewhere, nor do I have to camp out in unsanitary, unhealthy powerless conditions for five years.
“And before long, I’ll be home.”
Five years later, home isn’t Galveston — she moved to Atlanta last year — but Melott indeed rebuilt, as did thousands of others across Galveston County.
Seeing his Saltwater Grill restaurant under 8 feet of water was one of the most devastating moments for Danny Hart, one of the partners of Galveston Restaurant Group. He also saw his home taken by Ike.
While he had his doubts, and rebuilding was slow — too slow at times — five years later, he has done more than rebuild.
“We have come back strong and doubled the size of our company,” said Hart, who with partners Johnny and Joey Smecca operate Saltwater Grill, Nonno Tony’s, Marios on the Seawall, Gumbo Diner, Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar in Galveston and League City, Papa’s Pizza and Sky Bar Steak & Sushi in downtown Galveston.
No longer the last ones standing
Warren and Pam Adams went from Ike devastation to the restaurant business, too.
The couple became known as the owners of “The Last House Standing” in Gilchrist, near Rollover Pass on the Bolivar Peninsula.
An aerial photo captured the destruction all around but showed the house still standing.
Actually, the house was heavily damaged. Still, the couple rebuilt.
They also followed on Warren’s longtime dream and opened a barbecue restaurant across the street.
While open only during the summer months, the Fantasea BBQ & Grill is a symbol of recovery. It offers views from an upper deck that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and Rollover Pass as well as their refurbished home.
True Bolivar determination
The aerial photos of the devastation on the peninsula were heartbreaking for Dianne Ledet. She and her husband, Dale, were among the less-stubborn Bolivar residents who took the storm seriously and evacuated.
“When I left that Sunday, I locked the door and said ‘goodbye house,’ never dreaming that I would never see it again,” Ledet said.
Ike’s storm surge washed the house away.
It would be four years before Dianne and Dale Ledet would be able to move into a new house.
They stuck with it, determined to not only rebuild, but thrive.
“A lot of people have stayed and rebuilt, and a lot have never returned,” Ledet said. “I don’t think that our infrastructure is near 100 percent, mostly because we are the stepchild of Galveston County.
“Bolivar is coming back and will be much better than before. We know this because our property taxes have gone up so much.”
Never give up
Jack and Barbara Reynolds lost more than their house to Ike. They lost their rental properties, a seashell business and a set of short-term rental cottages.
Jack Reynolds insisted from the get-go that the family would fight for the life they built on the peninsula.
While they haven’t recovered all they lost and lived for years in a trailer, Jack and members of his family built a new house in High Island, and the Reynolds are still looked upon as leaders of the community.
Barbara even reopened — albeit in a smaller venue — her seashell business.
Last week, in advance of the fifth anniversary of Ike’s landfall, the couple joined others in a festival near Rollover Pass to fight the state’s plan to fill in the waterway that’s a major draw to the peninsula.
Evacuating to a new life
It’s odd to think that running away from a storm would lead to a new job, new community and new life. But that’s exactly what happened to West End resident Phyllis Hildenbrand.
She was an accounting office temporary worker at the University of Texas Medical Branch at the time of Ike and was set to move to a full-time position the next month — a job, given the medical branch’s cutbacks after the storm, that may not have been there after storm.
“While evacuated, I met an ophthalmologist opening a new office in Baytown,” she said. “He hired me on the spot with the wonderful letter of recommendation UTMB gave me. I am his practice administrator. After nearly five years, we have grown his business from eight patients a day to almost 30 a day and are growing more every day.”
Her husband recently retired from Galveston County, and to mark the fifth anniversary of the storm, the couple moved to Baytown.
Still the politically active Hildenbrand said she will miss her former home.
“Loved working the polls and on the early voting board,” she said. “Might get involved here in Harris County, but there is nothing like Galveston politics.”
Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or email@example.com.