E.J. Gaspard
Special to The Record

On Sept. 13, 2008 at 2:10 a.m. Hurricane Ike hit the coast of Texas like a sledgehammer. The aftermath left 4 million people without power, an estimated 31.5 billion dollars in damage and 82 people confirmed dead. Galveston took the brunt of the impact but other communities were devastated as well. In Bridge City it is estimated that only 14 homes were unaffected. 

The city of Houston and surrounding areas were next in line.

Downtown the once busy streets were littered by glass and papers that used to be important. Skyscrapers, once thought to be invincible, stood shoulder to shoulder, their broken out windows making them look like gap-toothed giants. 

In Louisiana, Cameron Parish was hit hardest with more storm surge than Rita just three years before. 

The 584-foot cargo ship Antalina was one of the ships that left Port Arthur to avoid the hurricane on Sept. 11. On the following morning her engines failed, leaving her adrift 90 miles from shore.

The Coast Guard launched a rescue attempt but it was aborted due to weather, leaving her 22-man crew to ride out the storm. Those on board can attest to Ike’s raw power that sent wave after wave of green water crashing over the deck. 

Ike was the largest Atlantic storm ever recorded. It had the highest Integrated Kinetic Energy of any Atlantic storm in history. Ike measured 5.6 on a scale of 1 to 6. By contrast, Katrina came in at 5.1. Integrated Kinetic Energy is abbreviated as I.K.E. (coincidental isn’t it?). 

Ike was declared a hurricane while still well offshore. Just three hours later it was upgraded to a major hurricane. By Sept. 4 Ike’s winds reached 145 mph. 

I read a few weeks ago that piles of debris along the roadways were over 30 miles long. As I’ve said before FEMA, like the grist mills of the Lord, grinds fine but exceedingly slow. 

Months passed. In November, surrounded by a wasteland of debris and enveloped in a shroud of depression, people with very little to be thankful for gave thanks anyway. But suddenly, on Dec. 12 something miraculous happened. It began to snow. To some it just came and went. It took an e-mail from Jane Odom, a dear friend of mine who lives in a suburb of Houston, to remind me just how special this event was. 

She writes, “It’s hard to explain how it felt. Since Ike, people have been in some kind of “funk” – you could still feel the sadness.

Everyday people would make references to Ike and what he did.

Everyone knows of someone who lost homes or possessions and even worse, they lost their faith and the hope that things would be OK. Everyday there were reminders around you that lives were turned upside down, the screaming blue FEMA tarps, piles of debris from homes damaged, broken fences (like mine) that couldn’t stand up to the storm’s fury, trees broken and left to dangle precariously beside the roads. Then it started to snow. No one talked about Ike. It was like a city of children on Christmas morning bursting with excitement. No one cared that it was 25 degrees and it was raining. The wind was howling and the roads were treacherous. No one cared because it was snowing! I got home about 11 p.m. and found several houses in my neighborhood with front yards full of giddy kids, probably building the first snowmen of their lives. It just felt good again.”

In the midst of devastation, people forgot about their worries for a day, a whole day. More than that, it turned their children’s bitter memories into something wonderful, something they will remember for their whole lives. 

Instead of 2008 being the year that Ike tore their lives apart, it will be the year it snowed in Southeast Texas, the year kids made snowmen and pelted their friends and family with snowballs. It will be the year they caught snowflakes on their tongues and stashed more snowballs in the freezer. Those kind of memories last a lifetime.

[E.J. Gaspard lives in Cameron Parish and is a regular contributor to Lagniappe magazine.]