Hurricane Ike's Wake

Forgotten and overlooked, Galveston and the Texas Gulf Coast struggle on in the storm's aftermath

"No, we were stupid, we were crazy, we'd lost our ever-lovin' thinkin'," puts in Creasy. "The news told us we faced 'certain death.'" (Harris and Creasy say the famous weather bulletin words in unison.) But we stayed open until the roads were filled with debris and as soon as the health department said it was okay, I opened right back up."

Bad as the storm was, Creasy and Harris believe the aftermath has been worse. "There was no water, no lights; if it wasn't for the Salvation Army and the National Guard, we wouldn't have ate. There was no food, there were no stores to buy any food. Thank God for the Salvation Army and the National Guard."

Harris and Creasy pointedly did not cite FEMA for praise. They wouldn't speak on the record about FEMA, but we did hear from more than one source that the agency's acronym should stand for Failed Everyone Miserably Again.

Carriage driver James Coffman said there was no time to evacuate his horses from Galveston. One of the three died in the flooding.
Daniel Kramer
Carriage driver James Coffman said there was no time to evacuate his horses from Galveston. One of the three died in the flooding.
Sue Johnson, a community worker, came through the storm materially unscathed. The people she helped and her emotional well-being did not.
Daniel Kramer
Sue Johnson, a community worker, came through the storm materially unscathed. The people she helped and her emotional well-being did not.

Galveston is no longer in crisis. What prevails now is more of what author James Howard Kunstler calls "a long, slow emergency."

"There's still a lot of debris, a lot of closures," says Creasy. "Myself, I need nothing. But the island, the people that live here, the people that are homeless, the people who have nobody to put them in their arms and say, 'It's gonna be all right. You need a hug.' We all needed hugs to get through this."

Both Harris and Creasy have some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The two of them sat down together and attempted to read a coffee-table book about Ike. "We were both so...emotional," remembers Creasy. "We were just physically shaking and crying," says Harris. "We both had the same reaction. It was one thing to live through it and see it, but to actually reminisce and see what we saw on paper — it was like, 'Oh my God. We lived through this.'" Meanwhile, Harris's nights lately have been dogged by a recurring nightmare in which a wall of water chases her to the edge of a cliff, at which time she wakes up, hyperventilating.

Dee Dee Gregoire

At least UTMB's management spared social worker Dee Dee Gregoire an unnecessary trip to Galveston. They did her the courtesy of telling her she was "riffed" — laid off — over the phone.

"Some time in October or November, we were told that if we got a better offer from another organization, we should do what was best for our families and take it," she says. "I never looked for another job. I thought I would be back. Galveston needs UTMB's inpatient psychiatry unit. Already, I've heard a lot of our patients have ended up in jail. They get off their meds and they don't know what they are doing. Anyway, I didn't think I needed to look for a job. I was in denial."

Today, she believes that her pre-Ike optimism about life in general has been ransacked. "Before the hurricane, I was happy," she says. "I had a job that I loved, my friends, my animals. It's all changing. I can't even picture what my life will be like once I go back to work, wherever that will be. Now I don't have my job to look forward to. I don't have anything to look forward to."

Gregoire's pre-Ike job was as a social worker/psychologist in UTMB's Department of Care Management. Gregoire worked Friday to Monday, ten hours a day, evaluating the health of new mental patients, until they were either discharged or committed to the state mental hospital in Austin.

Gregoire rode out the storm in levee-­protected Texas City, where she lives in a comfortable ranch-style home a stone's throw from the bay front in Texas City with a few constantly chirping parakeets, two tiny dogs and a gargantuan cat that outweighs both of her dogs put together. The past president of the National Association of Social Workers' Texas Gulf Coast branch saw her career at UTMB come to an early end courtesy of Ike. The day after the storm, she was told there would be no work until a further notice, which never really came.

Meanwhile, ominous rumors were circulating among UTMB employees about the nature of some face-to-face meetings with HR. When Gregoire got one of the notices, she knew the jig was up. "I just told them, 'If I'm being riffed, I don't need to come all the way to Galveston to hear it. Just tell me over the phone. Eventually, they read me my letter word for word."

Gregoire is still receiving benefits and full pay until January 19. After that, her future is uncertain, though she has had a few nibbles from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Houston. Should she take one of those jobs, she would have to rise at four or five in the morning to get to work at eight.

Or she could move north to Houston. It's not a move she would relish. "Galveston is one of my favorite places. I love to go back, but at the same time I hate to go back."

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