December 1, 2009

365 Project: Day 45

Today, November 30th, marks the official end of Hurricane Season. We've been very lucky this year. On September 13, 2008 Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was classified as a strong Category 2 hurricane with a Category 5 storm surge. In the United States over 100 people were killed and more than 300 people are still classified as missing.

I took this picture on Crystal Beach in July 2008, 3 months before Hurricane Ike.

Last year, I met one of the women who is now classified as missing. Every summer for the past several years my family has rented a beach house in Crystal Beach, TX for a week or so. This is my favorite place in the world. I look forward to going there every year. I love the warm water, laying on the beach, sitting for hours on the porch of our beach house, and most of all I love the people there.

In July 2008, just a couple of months before Hurricane Ike, my family was in Crystal Beach on vacation. Every day we would go down to the beach and set up our chairs for a day of relaxing in the sun. And every day there was a little old lady, who lived in a beach house a couple down from my aunt's beach house, who would do the same. We would watch her walk down to the beach carrying a lawn chair, a little cooler with a six pack of beer, and her fat little black dog waddled across the sand behind her. She would sit in the sun for hours. My dad talked to her one day and she pretty much told him her entire life history. She was in her 80s, she used to be a lifeguard and swore that she could still save somebody from the ocean if she had to. She had moved to the beach with her husband, who had since passed away, and she had decided to stay there alone with her little black dog.

She was a character. One of those people you meet in life that you don't forget. When I heard that Hurricane Ike would hit Crystal Beach I was worried. I knew that there probably wouldn't be much of the area left. The storm would destroy everything. I thought about her. I wondered if she would try to evacuate. I was glued to the TV the day Hurricane Ike hit. I couldn't stop watching. As the storm surge came on shore, drowning all my memories in a flood...I cried. Even as I write this, more than a year later, I still cry. I grew up building sand castles on those beaches. I spent many days swimming in the water that was about to swallow all the land and wipe out everything in its path. I felt helpless to save this place I love. I felt betrayed by the ocean that I had enjoyed so much. And I watched it all fall apart by live feed on the TV with commentary by Anderson Cooper.

Not long after Hurricane Ike, I got a call from my aunt. She had driven down to the beach to see the condition it was in. The destruction was so great that she didn't even recognize where she was. This is a woman who practically lived there every summer. All the stores and places that we used as landmarks to navigate the little town, where gone. Thankfully, she had sold her beach house not long before Hurricane Ike hit. When she finally found where she had built it, her house was the only one left standing on the entire street.

The beach house where the little old woman had lived with her little black dog was completely gone, and so was she. She is counted as one of the many missing. Although, they did find her car. It was up the road with an overnight bag packed in the back seat. She had tried to evacuate at the last minute, and like so many others, didn't make it out. It was just too late.

Crystal Beach is on a sliver of land called the Bolivar Peninsula. On one side is the Gulf of Mexico and on the other side is the Bay. There is only one road, HWY 87, that leads back to the main land of Texas, and because of the storm surge, it was completely washed out long before the storm even hit. The people who had waited to evacuate were trapped there. Some were rescued by boat and helicopter, but many had no choice but to try and ride out the storm. Most of them didn't make it, including that little old woman...and her little black dog.

These are the front doors of the Balinese Room. It was a historical landmark in Galveston, TX that sat on a pier leading out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was made famous to the world by the ZZ Top song "Balinese". It completely collapsed into the Gulf during Hurricane Ike and has not been rebuilt. I took this picture on vacation there in July 2008.

Last year, when I met that little old lady, I walked the shore of Crystal Beach, as I did every year, collecting shells and sea glass. There was never much sea glass to be found here and when I found a piece I was always so excited. The jar I am holding on the left is the sea glass that I collected in 2008. There are only 19 pieces of sea glass in this jar. Not even enough to fill it halfway.

We also vacationed at Crystal Beach this summer. Almost a year after Hurricane Ike. The majority of beach houses that were there the year before were completely gone. They had been washed away by the storm surge. It was like they had disappeared, leaving only the cement slabs to prove that they had existed. We stayed in one of the remaining beach houses.

Like all the years before, I walked the shores collecting shells and sea glass. This time it was different. I was finding handfuls of sea glass. And not only sea glass, but pieces of floor and bathroom tile, pieces of roofs, pieces of dishes. It was becoming more and more obvious to me that I wasn't just collecting sea glass, I was collecting the pieces of people's lives that were scattered all along the shore. It became very disturbing to me and as my time there went on, I actually stopped picking up the glass as I found it.

The jar on the right of the picture is full of the pieces of sea glass, tile, and dishes that I collected. There is a significant difference in the size of the jar required to hold it all. In this jar are 156 pieces of sea glass, 3 pieces of dishes, and 3 pieces of tile and that's just what I collected. My mother, aunt, and sister also collected jars full.

This is Murdochs Pier. It was a gift shop that sat on a pier in Galveston, TX. It was built in 1910. I took this picture on vacation there in July 2008. The pier was washed away by the storm surge from Hurricane Ike. Only the pilings were left sticking out of the water. They are in the process of rebuilding Murdochs.

As I watched Anderson Cooper struggle against the wind to report the progress of the storm, I thought about all those people who were trapped in their houses. I can't imagine how terrifying it must be to sit in your own home, waiting out the storm in the dark, listening to the howling wind rip the shingles off of your house. I can't imagine watching the floodwater rise all around you and knowing you were probably going to drown.

This picture became an iconic image of the destruction on the Bolivar Peninsula. This house is in Gilchrist, TX, which you can see marked on the map above. It was the only house left standing in an entire neighborhood, and it was left practically untouched by Hurricane Ike.

When I was vacationing at the beach this summer, enjoying the sun and picking up these pieces along the shore, I thought a lot about the tragedy and destruction that had happened right where I was standing only a year before. I stared at the water for a long time, thinking about what it must have been like to see it rising higher and higher, swallowing the beach and washing away everything in its path...and it broke my heart.

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