Eerie Calm Settles Over Galveston as Harvey Approaches

Downtown Galveston was quiet Friday morning, with slowly growing puddles in some places.EXPAND
Downtown Galveston was quiet Friday morning, with slowly growing puddles in some places.
Photo by Stephen Paulsen

An eerie calm settled over Galveston Friday morning as locals and city officials prepared for Harvey.

While the National Weather Service isn’t sure exactly when or where Harvey will hit, the storm is predicted to make landfall around Corpus Christi late Friday or early Saturday. It’ll linger over the East Texas region for days, dropping between two and three feet of rain in some places.

The slow-moving and drawn-out nature of Harvey means there’s still a strong possibility of dangerous flooding and storm surges. City officials expect Galveston will receive up to 20 inches of rain. And storm surges along Galveston's shoreline could reach almost 20 feet, according to models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (These surge estimates are based on the absolute worst-case scenario, in which Harvey, rather than remaining a Category 3 hurricane, strengthens into a Category 4 and hits Galveston head-on.)

On Thursday, Galveston issued a voluntary evacuation for anyone with medical conditions living west of the Seawall. Later that same day, they extended the evacuation for anyone in the area, regardless of age or physical health. Niki Bender, emergency manager for the city, warned that “residents should prepare their homes for tidal flooding.”

On Friday, Galveston Independent School District announced school will be closed from Monday, August 28, through Wednesday, August 30. Around noon, the city also held a press conference to address concerns. Mayor Jim Yarbrough stressed the city was better prepared now than it was for Ike — but also that Harvey won’t be much like that storm.

"Hunker from wind and run from water," said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough, speaking at a press conference Friday. "That's still our gospel."EXPAND
"Hunker from wind and run from water," said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough, speaking at a press conference Friday. "That's still our gospel."
Photo by Stephen Paulsen

“This one’s a little different,” Yarbrough said, comparing the two storms. “This one’s not going anywhere.” Although Ike hit Galveston directly, it passed through quickly. Yarbrough worried Harvey could shut down the city for days, referring to Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, during which rains are expected to continue falling, as “the unknown part of this.”

Yarbrough predicted the causeway would stay open but guessed the ferry between Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula would close at some point. Those decisions are up to the Texas Department of Transportation, he noted, rather than the city.

He said the city doesn’t currently have shelters for residents but will make them available if necessary. He warned locals that if they stayed on the island past around 5 or 6 p.m. today, they might have to “shelter in place” rather than evacuating.

Still, he acknowledged that plans could change depending on how bad storm surges are. “Hunker from wind and run from water,” he said. “That’s still our gospel.”

The atmosphere on Galveston was subdued today, as locals fortified their homes and bought supplies. One couple at a convenience store on Broadway, who didn't provide their names to Houston Press but said they planned to ride out the storm, were buying beer and rolling papers. They'd gotten a “storm special” on marijuana, they said, because their dealer needed gas money to leave Galveston.

The Seawall was similarly quiet, devoid of its normal tourists. Many shops along Seawall Boulevard, and indeed across the island, were closed but not boarded. While no one had apparently come to Galveston just for the storm, as was the case with Cindy, most of the people who spoke to Houston Press said they weren’t too concerned Harvey. A long line of terrible storms in the region, coupled with the devastation of Ike in 2008, has apparently given many people here a calm, wait-and-see attitude.

Cisco Paredes, 17, and Michelle Garcia, 28, were relaxing on the beach near 33rd Street. A nephew-aunt duo, the pair had just moved to Galveston from Waco and Albuquerque, respectively.

Neither were worried at the storm. “We find it an adventure,” Garcia said.

Sandra Andrews, a UTMB employee who volunteered to work the storm shift, shows off her roughly five-day cache of food, water and other supplies.EXPAND
Sandra Andrews, a UTMB employee who volunteered to work the storm shift, shows off her roughly five-day cache of food, water and other supplies.
Photo by Stephen Paulsen

The story was the same for basically everyone who talked to Houston Press: They hadn’t planned on being in Galveston for bad storm, but weren’t too worried about it, either. Philip Martin and Cathy Blackburn, neighbors from Alvin, came down because they were hired to put a windshield on a boat. They’d planned on doing it sooner, but ended up pushing it off to Friday.

Still, neither seemed worried as they sat in a car along Seawall, watching the sea. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Blackburn said. Asked about the storm, Blackburn predicted rain and “slow flooding.” But she thought Harvey had been overhyped and would end being less bad than some have predicted.

Sandra Andrews, from Texas City, said the same. A 25-year employee at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Andrews had volunteered to work during the storm. She popped open her trunk, revealing around five days worth of food, water and other supplies.

Andrews had also worked during Ike. She remembers the devastation on the island, which described as like “a bomb.” She didn't think it'd be like that this time.

“This is not my first rodeo,” she said. “It’s going to be a rainmaker, I know that for sure. But nothing like Ike."

Dark clouds settled over Pleasure Pier Friday morning.EXPAND
Dark clouds settled over Pleasure Pier Friday morning.
Photo by Treva Wygle
Waves lash against the support beams of an overpass in Galveston.EXPAND
Waves lash against the support beams of an overpass in Galveston.
Photo by Treva Wygle

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