Islanders who insisted on staying died in Ike

Date: 10/4/2008 1:58 PM

By MONICA RHOR
Associated Press Writer

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) _ The final hours brought the awful realization to victims of Hurricane Ike that they had waited too long. This storm wasn’t like the others, the ones that left nothing worse than a harrowing tale to tell.

George Helmond, a hardy Galveston salt, watched the water rise and told a buddy: I was born on this island and I’ll die on this island.

Gail Ettenger, a free spirit who adopted the Bolivar Peninsula as her home 15 years ago, told a friend in a last phone call: I really messed up this time.

Within hours, the old salt and the free spirit were gone as the powerful Category 2 hurricane wracked the Texas Gulf Coast on Sept. 13, flattening houses, obliterating entire towns and claiming at least 33 lives.

The dead — as young as 4, as old as 79 — included lifelong Galvestonians firmly rooted on the island and transplants drawn by the quiet of coastal living.

Seven people drowned in a storm surge that moved in earlier and with more ferocity than expected. Nine others died in the grimy, sweaty aftermath, when lack of power and medicine exacted its toll. Eleven people were poisoned by carbon monoxide or killed in fires from the generators they used in their own attempts to survive.

Hundreds of people remain missing three weeks after Ike’s assault on Texas. Local and city officials are no longer keeping their own count of missing residents, and the estimate varies wildly from one agency to another.

According to the nonprofit Laura Recovery Center, about 300 people are missing. Of those, about 200 from Galveston. However, the number “goes up and down by the minute” as people call in to remove or add names, cautioned executive director Bob Walcutt.

Some vanished during the evacuation of towns in the storm’s path. Many were last heard in desperate, last-ditch calls for help.

Immediately after the hurricane, Galveston officials conducted door-to-door searches for survivors and possible victims. But the city is no longer taking an active role in the search, city spokeswoman Alicia Cahill said.

Instead, search teams of sheriff’s deputies, volunteer firefighters and special K-9 search and recovery units have been using airboats and all-terrain vehicles to sift through debris fields, tangled and fetid marshlands, and the rubble left behind by Ike.

Bodies could have been tossed anywhere in the marshes, where thickets of trees are littered with the contents of houses. Refrigerators, office chairs, and television sets are scattered everywhere __ in the mud, in bushes, on treetops.

“We are definitely looking and are going to do anything we can to find them, but there may not be any answers to be given,” said Galveston County emergency management spokesman Colin Rizzo. “There are definitely going to be people from Hurricane Ike that are never found.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

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