Forgotten, but not gone

One year after Hurricane Ike, Texas still in desperate need

September 11, 2009

Louisville

When Hurricane Ike blew through Southeast Texas a year ago, thousands of Americans were forever impacted.

And thousands more didn’t seem to notice.

Ike was the third most destructive storm to ever make landfall in the United States. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ike came ashore over Galveston Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, on Sept. 13, 2008. Ike was a Category 2 hurricane, meaning that very strong winds caused widespread damage. Winds were at 110 miles an hour and the storm surge was estimated to have reached 20 feet in some areas.

But while the storm was swirling in Texas, the rest of the United States was facing news of other kinds. The 2008 presidential election was in full swing, and the financial system was reaching a breaking point.

“The timing of Ike was horrible for tens of thousands of Americans,” said Randy Ackley, coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. “You have whole neighborhoods that aren’t there and no one is talking about it. People just don’t know the extent of the damage in Texas.”

The media largely focused on political and economic coverage, not covering Ike nearly to the extent that Hurricane Katrina was covered in 2005.

And that lack of presence in the media has had a huge impact on donations for Ike recovery.

Within one year, PDA received $24 million in donations for Katrina. For Ike, it’s received about 1 percent of that — less than $300,000, Ackley said.

PDA’s recovery efforts for Katrina have been budgeted through 2011, Ackley said. For Ike, this is impossible unless people give more money.

“We’ve spent more money on Ike than we’ve raised,” Ackley said, adding that extra money has had to come out of PDA’s general fund, which is also used to help with other disasters. “We can’t keep it going without added support.”

Running a volunteer village — consisting of basic sleeping, bathing and cooking facilities for volunteers — costs $2,500-$3,000 a month. To set up a village, PDA spends $60,000-$80,000, Ackley said.

There are two volunteer villages in Texas, both with the ability to house 90 people, but neither is at capacity.

The impact of Ike on Southeast Texas is similar to that of Katrina on New Orleans, Ackley said. Fishing communities have been affected, as have senior living homes. Ike has been retired as a hurricane name, a designation reserved for only the most tragic storms.

And like New Orleans, the area affected by Ike will take years to recover.

“There’s this perception that disasters happen and three to six months later, they’re over,” Ackley said.

But recovery is a slow and expensive process. In one Texas county, 5,900 homes need to be rebuilt. So far, only about 90 have been completed.

Plain and simple, PDA needs help.

Those who want to contribute financially are encouraged to give to PDA’s general fund rather than designating their money to a specific cause. For example, if a donor wants his or her money to only fund windows, but no windows are needed, that money cannot be used for items that are needed.

PDA is also looking for volunteers. To learn more about taking a work team to a volunteer village, visit PDA’s Web site.

“The Presbyterian Church has gotten it,” Ackley said. “It really has understood that long-term recovery is necessary.”

PDA is a recipient of the One Great Hour of Sharing and a ministry of Compassion, Peace and Justice.

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