Sep 22, 2008
More than a week after Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, Texas, much of the city was still without electricity, gas, water, and sewers.
For the estimated 20,000 residents who stayed through the storm it was a public health disaster. There was little to eat as food spoiled in refrigerators, with no electricity in the Texas summer heat. With no running water, people could not flush toilets or wash their hands. Sewage systems backed up, creating foul-smelling air and a growing mosquito problem. Most had no clean water to drink. There were practically no working ambulances to respond to emergencies. Communication was difficult as systems went down. Elderly people ran low on medicines. Those who got through to 911 complaining of seizures, chest pains, or dehydration found no help. Galveston Island’s main hospital refused to accept any but the most dire emergencies.
The situation is likely to get worse. Officials told residents who evacuated before the storm not to return, other than a few who were temporarily allowed to “look and leave” to assess the damage to their homes. Officials say it could take weeks to fully restore electricity. When running water is eventually restored, there will be contamination from sewage and chemicals which flooded homes and debris.
Three years after Hurricane Katrina, Galveston looked like a giant New Orleans Superdome all over again, just more spread out. In the time since Katrina, government officials have done little.
Areas like Galveston are prone to hurricanes. Officials knew something like this was coming and did nothing to prepare for a powerful storm, except to tell people to get out! People were left to their own devices as to how to evacuate. When asked why they stayed, people said, “We had nowhere to go!”
Houston, which was spared the brunt of the storm, suffered less damage, yet is still not fully up and running. The fact that the fourth largest city in the country could be completely shut down is testimony to a system that does nothing to prepare for such emergencies.
Preparation would mean, among other things, constructing electrical lines and towers to withstand high winds, building water and sewage systems with enough capacity to handle storm drainage, and having enough people on staff to handle repairs. After Hurricane Ike, the utility companies had to borrow repair crews from 31 different states to restore power even at the slow rate they’ve managed thus far.
What happened to Galveston, like what happened to New Orleans, is a product of a system that puts profits over the well-being of the population. More than time for that system to go!