Holiday spirit on the island

November 29, 2008 6:20:43 AM PST
Debris is slowly being cleaned up in Galveston from Hurricane Ike more than two months ago. And now, storm survivors are getting a break from the work to try to return to normal. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Folks on Galveston island took an important step in the road to recovery Friday. City leaders there are hoping people will come to the coast as part of the holiday season and now they're taking steps to make it happen.

It may have been 70 degrees outside, but it was pure Christmas outside the Galves Hotel, complete with carols, Santa and a tree lighting.

To outsiders it may look like just holiday festivities, but this is what people have been yearning for -- normalcy.

"It's Friday night and we're doing something fun," said island resident Kelley Jonshon. " It's really nice."

It's what we heard over and over again.

"I think people want to get back to normal or forget about what's happening at home with insurance and get out and enjoy what Galveston's here for," said Christine Hopkins with the Hotel Galvez.

When many parts of the island still bear the scars of Hurricane Ike, the lush lawns, sparkling lights and holiday cheer are welcome.

"It's definitely a distraction," said island resident Darrell Mitchell. "Keep your mind off of things and get you in the spirit."

But it's hard to forget things are different this year. This festival is usually downtown.

"We're not downtown this year because, obviously, we're still rebuilding in the downtown area," said Lesley Sommers with the Historic Downtown Partnership.

They hope to return next year, but for now, the city is just grateful for people like the Tortoricis, who live in Texas City, but want to spend their money in Galveston.

"We encourage everyone to come back and visit," said Melissa Tororici.

No doubt it's what many Galvestonians want for Christmas.

City officials are quick to point out that 37 of the city's 41 hotels have already reopened, as have many shops and restaurants. Dickens on the Strand starts next weekend. You can have brunch with Santa every Sunday at the Hotel Galvez until Christmas.

Hurricane Ike and the slow economy are putting a pinch on Galveston. City leaders say they're facing a nearly $2 deficit and by the end of the fiscal year, that could quadruple. They say most of the loss in revenue is due to damage from Ike.

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