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Hurricane Ike: Then and Now

Remarkably little has changed in downtown except the raging floodwaters.
All photos by Daniel Kramer

Highlights from Hair Balls

Last Friday was the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Ike. When it swept through Houston in 2008 — and was subsequently swept under the rug by national media thanks to a collapsing economy — it packed much more of a punch than anyone expected. A massive storm that, at one point, filled almost the entire Gulf of Mexico, Ike was, by traditional measures, weaker than 1993's Hurricane Alicia but no less devastating. It confounded forecasters and helped to redefine the standard Saffir-Simpson scale for ranking hurricanes.

Houston Press photographer Daniel Kramer shot some amazing photos from Houston to Galveston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, showcasing the devastation from boats in the middle of the street to dozens of flooded roads and highways; from downtown streets lined with shards of glass from blown-out skyscraper windows to mounds of detritus washed ashore during the storm.

"I remember it so well," Kramer said. "It was an exhausting but exhilarating week. I hated coming back in."

Despite all the deaths and the massive destruction caused by the storm, Kramer never saw any dead people and only one dead cow, because he was not allowed onto Bolivar Peninsula. He did, however, find that coastal residents had not lost their sense of humor.

"The people on High Island had erected a giant sign that said, 'Shit Happens' and had then set a half a dozen toilets below the sign," he said.

Recently, Kramer went back to the scenes of these photographs, shooting the same spots he did in 2008, but this time with startlingly different results. Gone are the floodwaters that swirled around the streets near the Wortham Center that have long since receded, and the piles of wood and boats lining Nasa Road One near Kemah have been cleaned up and returned to normal.

"In the 12 photos I shot five years later, only one — the shot of downtown Houston — seemed unchanged," Kramer explained. "In all the others, buildings were gone or substantially remodeled, Kemah rides were gone, everything was different."

The photos serve as a reminder of the life we've chosen, so close to the beauty of the ocean but also within reach of Mother Nature's fury. But they also illustrate how resilient we can be.

"In New Orleans, you can still see Hurricane Katrina's high-water mark," he continued. "With Ike, it's almost like it never happened."


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