Galveston quiet as curfew obeyed

September 20, 2008 3:17:12 PM PDT
Now that a curfew runs the dark half of this hurricane-battered island's days, the residents who remain can only pass the time sipping cocktails on porches, guarding property and trying to avoid the $1,000 whack of a post-sundown violation. HURRICANE IKE: Breaking news on Ike | POD locations | Person locator | Local gas station report | Hurricane guide | Viewer photos of Ike | Latest power numbers

So far, it seems to be working.

Galveston Police Chief Charles Wiley said Thursday that since Hurricane Ike hammered the barrier island Saturday morning, there have been 11 cases of looting, a figure he called "phenomenally low."

Police have been shining their spotlights on Galveston's streets in 12-hour shifts since the storm. Calls flood in from those still on the island about noises in the yard or flashlight beams bouncing across a neighbor's porch.

In an hour and a half Thursday night, officers Marcelino Gonzalez and Joey Durr warned a 17-year-old walking home to his grandfather's house along a pitch-black street. They responded to a call about suspicious activity at a senior apartment complex; rolled through a couple of blocks of apparently deserted subsidized housing; and checked out a flood-ravaged house with the door ajar.

But since the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was put in place after Ike, Durr said, "I've never been called 'sir' so much in my life."

Some residents appear to be under the impression that martial law has been instituted and police will shoot on sight, said the ex-Marines, who both joined Galveston's force last year.

The streets seemed generally deserted with most locked up in their homes or enjoying the cool night air from their porches.

Albert Wilcox Jr. stood on his dark porch as Durr and Gonzalez rolled up late Thursday night. His massive Rottweiler "Rock" barked menacingly, flashing teeth behind the yard's "Beware of Dog" sign.

"That's my protection," Wilcox, 58, said.

Dogs a couple doors down had awakened Wilcox with their barking, and he thought he heard someone shout at them. He just wanted the officers to check things out.

Gonzalez and Durr didn't see anything. But they asked Wilcox if he had enough food and water -- something they asked everyone they encountered -- before moving on.

On Wednesday night, Gonzalez said he pulled a man from a burning house downtown. The man had tried to go back in for his pets and was already badly burned.

The lack of water for fighting fires is part of the reason residents can't return to Galveston yet.

The brief, failed experiment to let residents back in to briefly survey damage to their homes ended up overwhelming already limited resources on Tuesday and Wednesday as cars backed up for miles, many unaware that the idea was quickly scrapped.

"When they opened that look-and-leave, it doubled our work," Gonzalez said.

On Broadway their spotlight picked up four shadows on the porch of a large white house.

Patricia Bolton-Legg and Rusty Legg were drifting through the evening hours with Carol McCoggins and Brian Merrell in rocking chairs on the front porch of the Leggs' home, which survived of the legendary 1900 hurricane.

Bolton-Legg, a former city council member, leaned down to point to the spot on the top step where the water rose while all four rode out the storm. The Leggs lost their business, Competitive Electric, and Merrell lost his martini bar, "21." Both couples spent the curfew thinking of ways to resurrect their businesses.

"All we saw was a huge ocean," said Bolton-Legg. "All you could see was water. All we did was keep praying for sunrise."

Now, they protect what remains.

With a cocktail within reach, Merrell cradled a pistol in his lap.

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