Day to day life in Galveston after Ike

February 18, 2009 8:01:45 AM PST
Day to day life in Galveston is far from normal five months after Hurricane Ike. As we found out, getting basic needs, like housing or catching a bus to school, remains challenging. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Nicole Gavin has been at the school bus stop barely five minutes and she's already in crisis. Only one of her two sons got off the bus. A few minutes later, the other walks up. He was dropped off alone, a block away along the Seawall. The boys are only 8 and 9 years old.

"We no longer have our home," said Gavin. "We're renting a home over here while we're trying to rebuild and there's no kids that they go to school with any longer our neighborhood, so we have to make due. That's all you can do."

Her home on the west end was completely destroyed by Hurricane Ike. With no car, Nicole walks with her children to get around, surrounded by a neighborhood she doesn't know.

"It's moving constantly, it's trying to figure things out, dealing with FEMA stuff, trying to figure out stuff in the house, paperwork, insurance, which is a whole nother nightmare," said Gavin.

School transportation alone is a mess. Even though the district is getting federal funds to buy new buses, Galveston lost 45 of their 50 and had to borrow school buses from other districts. Add to that stress, an anticipated district-wide layoff of about 250 employees.

Crenshaw school reopened on Bolivar, but three other schools in the Galveston area remain closed. Some students have been shifted around. Around 2,100 students have not returned after Ike, which means GISD can expect a loss of about $17 million. That means potential job cuts, pay freezes and possible school closures.

"Kids are starting to make more progress again," said Galveston ISD Superintendent Lynne Cleveland. "I have to find something every day that's an improvement because if not, it is a depressing situation and it's been overwhelming for everybody. But we're all in this together."

Sure, there are signs of progress in the city. But look beyond Broadway and the view becomes more dim. Only about 40 percent of businesses are re-opened. Four out of six public housing properties are shut down and will be demolished, replaced eventually by new housing. But right now, all the devastation means property values are down about 35 percent. That means the city will lose at least $6 million in revenue.

"We simply have to downsize because we are already and will be a much smaller community," said Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc. "I say much smaller, I mean significantly smaller than we were pre-Ike, and so our service levels must be cut back."

LeBlanc and all other city employees have taken a three percent pay cut. Eighty-five employees have been laid off and over 140 jobs more are on the line, including the possibility of cutting back on police and fire.

That's more bad news for Nicole, whose husband is a firefighter.

"It would devastate us if he lost his fire department job," she said. "That would devastate us."

It's a possibility Nicole simply can't dwell on. There are too many other problems to deal with right now, like why the school separated her sons on their ride home. Just another day in Galveston.

Galveston city leaders say they are making progress. Water and sewer systems are back up and there now is trash pickup.

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