Galveston mayor reflects on post-Ike challenges

September 13, 2009 5:48:21 PM PDT
Sunday was a day of reflection for many in Galveston, marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Ike.[IKE ANNIVERSARY: Look back at the storm that changed SE Texas]

We spoke exclusively with Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas about the extraordinary challenges of rebuilding and her reflections on her own challenges in leading the city through Ike's devastation.

"We have a long way to go we have a lot of infrastructure left to do," said Mayor Thomas.

Her opinions can be compared to our walk along the Strand, straight forward and at a steady pace. We walk along an area that, one year ago, was completely washed over by an 8 to 10 foot tidal surge. The saltwater destroyed the historic buildings. It took several months to gut the structures and rebuild.

A year later, only a few stores remain closed. The rest are open and are being visited once again by tourists.

"The historic architecture on Galveston Island is very precious to us," said Mayor Thomas. "It has to be protected. It must be saved and Ike did a job on all of our historic architecture. But we're bringing it back. We're saving it and we're building better and safer."

Our walk along the Strand is especially poignant since shop owners lost their entire inventory and nearly all their hope. Yet the mayor believes the will to recover and rebuild was stronger than any doubts.

"The effort that's been made has truly been heartfelt and a complete commitment by Galveston to recover," said Mayor Thomas.

Our next destination is on the Strand's far east end at a place where progress hasn't been as swift. This vacant lot is where one of Galveston's four public housing developments used to be. Magnolia homes are in the oldest part of the city, surrounded by historic homes that survived the storm of 1900 and Hurricane Ike.

However, Magnolia homes originally built in the 1940s did not survive. Equally disappointing says the mayor is the pace of rebuilding.

"We're a year away from the storm. I wish we could have restored these sites and brought our citizens back within four to five months, but progress has been slow," she said.

The Housing Authority, not the city, is in charge of the redevelopment. The sites are being designed with input from neighbors, residents and community leaders, a process that is deliberate and unhurried.

A more expedient sign of progress is at Bayou Shores, where homes are being rebuilt and families have moved back.

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