Hurricane Ike: Sometimes the Lesson Learned is That We Haven’t Learned the Lesson

As this hurricane season heats up, you may want to read this article in the Texas Tribune about the Ike Dike or Texas Coastal Barrier. It’s a story about a flood mitigation effort that started in 2008, shortly after Hurricane Ike. I remember this storm vividly. I photographed the damage on the Bolivar Peninsula days after the storm. Despite the massive destruction it caused, nothing has yet been done to prevent a recurrence.

Remembering Ike

For those who don’t remember, Ike was a Cat 4 storm that weakened over Cuba, emerged into the Gulf, and came onshore at the northeast end of Galveston as a Cat 2. Ike came right up the center of Galveston Bay. The eye passed over the Lake Houston area.

Ike caused massive damage everywhere, killed more than a hundred people in Texas, and leveled thousands of homes on the Bolivar.

I remember vividly that evening watching giant pine trees bent 90 degrees, looking up at the stars the next minute and seeing those same pine trees bent 90 degrees in the other direction a few minutes later – ninety miles inland! When I emerged from my storm shelter the next morning, power was out everywhere. It would remain out for 13 days because of all the trees down on power lines.

Ike Dike Proposed to Protect Industry

Almost immediately, people began talking about an Ike Dike to protect the refining and petrochemical industry lining the western shores of the Bay. Had Ike come in a little west of where it did, those plants would have borne the direct brunt of the dirty side of the storm. How bad was the destruction on the dirty side? See the sequence of pictures below. It starts with two images from Google Earth. One taken a week before Ike. One taken days after.

Before and After Images from Google Earth of the Bolivar

Bolivar Peninsula on 9/3/2008, was covered with beach homes, some of which were occupied year round.
Bolivar Peninsula immediately after Ike. Streets are superimposed over the image in Google Earth. Those things that look like roofs are really slabs. See below.

Images Taken on the Ground Days After Ike

The storm surge from Ike tore sewers and water lines right out of the ground.
From this location, not one home was left standing as far as the eye could see.
People had a hard time even finding their streets. Storm surge carried them away, too.
People spray painted addresses on slabs for insurance adjusters…if there was a slab to find.
Mardi gras beads stuck in this tree…a sad reminder of happier times.
Destruction on the Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike was complete.
Even though homes had been elevated, it wasn’t enough to survive the storm surge.

Ike Storm Surge Reached 20 Miles Inland

The storm surge swept homes off their foundations 12 miles inland along FM1985. The surge reached the southern edge of Winnie on I-10, approximately 20 miles inland. I remember looking up at utility poles on the northern edge of Anahuac National Wildlife refuge and seeing seaweed in the telephone lines.

What Same Area Looks Like Today

Eleven years later, here’s an image showing the same area in the Google Earth images above.

Ike would have been a golden opportunity to turn this area into a national seashore. Not so much today. They’re BA-AAAACK, as they say in the horror movies.

Lessons Not Learned

I guess people’s love of nature is stronger than their fear of it. The Ike Dike is still a distant dream. And taxpayers are still subsidizing vacation homes on the edge of oblivion with Federally funded flood insurance.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/3/2019

703 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 3975 days since Hurricane Ike