Just over two weeks ago I took my first trip down to Galveston since Hurricane Ike. Ike hit in mid-September.
Above and below are pictures I took in Galveston. One is of a boat still out of the water. The other is of a very damaged pier. You can explore the online edition of the Galveston County Daily News to get some sense of life on the island today.
The upshot of what I saw in Galveston is that the outward damage to buildings could have been much worse, but that many homes and business places were flooded with sea water and need much work before they can be used again.
The fact that gets lost is that Galveston was an economic disaster zone before the hurricane. The poverty rate on the island has always been high. In 2007, 20.6% of people living in Galveston lived in poverty. This is even higher than the appalling 16.3% rate for all Texas.
With massive layoffs at the University of Texas Medical Branch in recent days, Galveston has become even more of a disaster zone. UTMB is the largest employer in Galveston. 8,000 of its 12,000 employees live in Galveston. 3,000 people are being let go with this round of layoffs. Galveston had a pre-hurricane population of just over 50,000.
It’s a trick when we are told the hurricane was a unique disaster for Galveston. The trick is that disaster conditions that merit a special response come only every so often, and the rest of time it is business as usual.
Of course in Texas, we do things a bit differently. The prevailing ethos under both Democratic and Republican political control in Texas has often been to kick a guy when he is down. The layoffs at UTMB, under the pretense of losses sustained since the hurricane, is a fine example of this creed. The fact of an actually acknowledged disaster was just the right time for the huge job cuts.
Oh, for the malignant neglect of better days!
The downsizing of UTMB began before the storm. The number of beds and services for the uninsured were already being cut. You can take what the University of Texas Board of Regents says about the cuts being a result of the hurricane as false. They want to chop down the size of UTMB and leave Galveston, of all things, high and dry, when it comes to places to work on the island.
Galveston is one of the founding communities of Texas. It’s history runs many years before that of most of the rest of Texas. I’m not going to pretend I have the solution to Galveston’s problems. A good starting point might be to see Galveston as worth saving. And to realize that even with the Sea Wall, Galveston has long been underwater in many regards.