It’s been six years since Hurricane Ike came to town, but according to City Manager, Jerry Jones, the city’s recovery has been “pretty phenomenal.”

As the storm approached, and looked certain to come to Southeast Texas, city officials took a gamble and planned ahead for generators. The day after they returned, the generators arrived which allowed them to get the sewer/water plants and lift stations up and running with the much needed power.

City officials have worked with homeowners and torn down about 100 houses that were damaged in the storm. There are about 15 more houses on a list to be torn down within the next few months. The homeowners have qualified for a program which assists with the costs. There are still other houses to be taken care of as well. Six years after the storm, the city is still doing government funded Hurricane Ike related projects. City officials received $3.2 million from FEMA as recently as last week to continue on their many projects.
As a result of all the funds received, about 85 percent of all the streets in Bridge City are being resurfaced and should be completed at the end of the year, according to Jones.
The city initially got money for immediate needs. But, larger amounts for bigger projects didn’t start until later. The first check was given to the city in June 2009. “At the time we did what we could and for some items we were later reimbursed, but the majority of projects had to wait,” Jones said

Initially, money was used to clean out the ditches, which were filled with debris, to allow for better water flow. They also used the funds for debris cleanup of the sewer systems in an effort to get the city up and running. The city was able to get the water and sewer up and running within 24 hours. The city received about $18 million from FEMA grants to do a sewer rehabilitation. They spent the money cleaning sewer lines along with the other parts of the sewer system. In addition, they repaired or replaced the lift stations, manholes, pumps, motors and controls due to the salt water intrusion. In addition, new generators were added to the water/sewer plants and all major lift stations and winding down on those projects too. Overall, it took roughly $21 million to get the city back to where it was before Hurricane Ike.

“It’s great. We are appreciative to get everything back where it was,” Jones said. 

However, he added, what city officials are the most excited about is the city population is growing again. Since the storm there are 65 new houses in Bridge City. But, it has been a long road to recovery. Of the nearly 3,800 houses in Bridge City, all but 16 were left unlivable. A large percentage of residents have recovered. The businesses also managed a come back. However, some left the area. The former Pizza Hut may be gone, but has been replaced by Pinehurst Barbecue.

Jones believes the city will be better prepared if they are hit by another hurricane due to the fact that there are generators at new locations, water and sewer are in better shape and city workers know what to do since they went through both Rita and Ike. Bridge City is also part of a coalition to get a levy system built somewhere down the road. Jones added the city may possibly apply to complete additional projects if they can acquire more funds. Overall, it has been a long drawn out process, but in the end worth it, according to Jones.
“It’s remarkable how far we have come,” Jones said. “But, it could not have been done without the citizens.”

Six years of recovery since Hurricane Ike

This week marks the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Ike which hit Southeast Texas Sept. 13, 2008 and left many areas devastated in the months to follow. For some it has taken years to fully recover.

It was the ninth named storm, fifth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. It was a Cape Verde-type hurricane which started as a tropical disturbance near Africa at the end of August. On Sept. 1, 2008, it became a tropical storm west of the Cape Verde islands. By the early morning hours of Sept. 4, Ike was a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph which made it the most intense Atlantic storm of 2008. Ike passed over the Turks and Caicos Islands as Category 4, with winds 135 mph on Sept. 7. Moving west along Cuba, it made two landfalls as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 7 and as a Category 1 hurricane two days later. At one point, Ike was over 600 miles in diameter.
The storm had come ashore with high winds and towering waves which pushed boats ashore, smashed many houses and flooded thousands of buildings. Power was knocked out to millions of customers. Many waited weeks or months for service to be returned. The storm first made landfall  at 2:10 a.m. in Galveston as a strong Category 2 hurricane. The hurricane force winds extended 120 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extended far beyond that. For the state of Texas, it was also one of the most costliest.

However, the storm surge was slowly moving into the area long before the storm actually hit. The water began to cover roadways and moved into the neighborhoods. With Ike moving into the Gulf, thousands of people fled the area. This meant about 84,000 Orange County residents and more 250,000 Jefferson County residents filled up the roadways as they tried to escape.

Parts of Orange County suffered the wrath of the storm more than others. Many lost their houses or businesses. For weeks, many slept in tents, stayed with family or friends while some left everything behind to start life somewhere else. People were rescued from roof tops or attics and carried to safety by boats or heavy equipment.
The effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas were crippling and long-lasting. Ike’s effects included deaths, widespread damage, and impacted the price and availability of oil and gas.
As of Dec. 27, 2008, 37 people are known to have lost their lives in Texas due to Ike while hundreds are still missing.

In Orange County, Greg Walker, of Port Neches, attempted to travel on Highway 87 on his way home. But, the rising flood waters would prevent him from making it and contributed to his death. The 40-year-old father of three was returning from Louisiana, where he had taken his family. Around 2:30 a.m., Walker told a 911 dispatcher that he was going to try to swim to safety. He was instructed to use his seat cushions as a flotation device. He tried calling his wife, but the line went dead. Orange County officials used search teams, helicopters and cadaver dogs but could not find Walker. Fifteen days after Walker’s last call, volunteers from Texas EquuSearch discovered his body in a tree-line levee a mile from where his truck was found.

An estimated 100,000 homes had been flooded in Texas. Locally, those who had evacuated came back to a mess. Houses were destroyed. People who had gotten onto a bus and evacuated to a shelter parked their car near Lamar State College-Orange. When they returned, the discovered their vehicles has been under water and ruined.

After a much talked about debacle, FEMA trailers began to arrive in the area. FEMA officials estimated 2,000 mobile homes and park model homes to be in Southeast Texas for residents whose houses were destroyed as a result of Hurricane Ike. It was a frequent occasion to see the trailers being moved in and out of the surrounding cities. Citizens worked to repair their homes while for some it took a bit longer as they fought with insurance companies for what they both thought was fair.

Local schools struggled at first. Some closed, but opened as soon as they could. Four weeks after the storm hit, BCISD was back in business. They moved students around and brought in trailers for the task of giving students as sense of normalcy. After many renovations, schools were opened.

Over the next few years, local cities worked with homeowners to find a solution about their condemned properties. Some qualified for buy-out programs while others faced demolition.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasted a near-normal or below-normal hurricane season on May 22, 2014, predicting that there is a 70 percent chance of having eight to 13 named storms, of which three to six could develop into hurricanes, including one to two major hurricanes (categories 3-5).
Thus far, it has been a quiet season (knock on wood).

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said some Ike grants helped build some new county buildings such as the Orange County Convention & Expo Center which houses the Emergency Management, Texas AgriLife Extension, Environmental Health & Code and the Road & Bridge departments. The Adult Probation building adjacent to the Orange County Courthouse was also built with Ike funds. “It’s a heck of a way to get that money,” Thibodeaux said. He added the county’s Emergency Operations Center has state of the art technology. A levy system for Orange County is still in the works. A study was recently completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers related to the levy. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be (for another disaster). The fruit is on the vine as long as it doesn’t wither,” Thibodeaux said about pursuing the levy.