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Residents of Ike-ravaged peninsula head home

Texas residents of a fragile peninsula ravaged by Hurricane Ike jammed the lone road home Friday to begin rebuilding their lives.
Image: Vehicles wait to cross a bridge
Vehicles wait to cross a bridge damaged by Hurricane Ike at High Island, Texas, on the Bolivar Peninsula on Thursday.Eric Gay / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Terrie Robbins expected to find storm damage when she and other residents were allowed to return home on Bolivar Peninsula for the first time Friday since fleeing Hurricane Ike.

But she didn’t expect to find her home more than 500 feet from its concrete foundation, dumped next to a bar across the main highway that runs through the peninsula.

She said she was lucky. Her parents, who live two streets away, weren’t even able to locate their home.

“We survived (Hurricanes) Carla and Alicia. Just not Ike. Ike was more powerful,” said Robbins’ sister, Kellie Collins, 34. “We’re still rich in other things — our health, life, children, memories. That’s something Ike could not take away.”

Robbins, 49, and other Bolivar residents crowded onto the only roadway into the peninsula on Friday. They were allowed to check out the massive wreckage left behind after Hurricane Ike roared through this thin strip of land along the Gulf of Mexico. While most residents fled before Ike arrived, a small group stayed.

The peninsula’s 4,000 or so residents were allowed back on a “look and leave” policy. Officials said the area is not safe to live in because of a lack of water and utilities as well as dangers from snakes and alligators.

The peninsula just northeast of Galveston was among the hardest-hit areas when Ike blasted ashore Sept. 13 with 110 mph winds and a storm surge that swept away homes and businesses.

It was slow going at times Friday on the only road leading onto Bolivar, as traffic backed up at least 5 miles. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials stood by the road just off the peninsula, handing out fliers on how to apply for aid. Further down the road, tents were set up where people could get ice, water, mosquito repellent or tetanus shots.

Many residents found their homes had been wiped away and were forced to scour nearby fields and rummage through rubble in hopes of salvaging personal belongings.

Kevin McKnight, 48, who lives across the street from Robbins, managed to find some of his antique collectibles, including photographs and clocks, as well as a drum set and a motorcycle. They were underneath trees, mud and other debris that sat where his house once stood.

“I’m in a state of denial,” said McKnight, who owns a grocery store in Crystal Beach that was also destroyed. “That’s what it is right now, one day at a time. I just have to knock it out.”

Just east of Crystal Beach, in the small town of Gilchrist, Raymond and Lola Rice joined neighbors in a field across the street from their vacation beach houses. The storm surge from Ike had reduced their homes to concrete slabs and splintered wooden beams and had washed many of their belongings, including plates, VCRs and toilets, onto the field.

“When we bought it, we knew this could happen,” Lola Rice said of her home, which she and her husband bought in 1969. “But you thank the Lord for the time you had.”

The most stunning sight amid the devastation in town may have been Warren and Pam Adams’ bright yellow home — the only house along the beach in Gilchrist left standing.

Warren Adams credited his home’s survival to several reasons: It was built higher off the ground than surrounding houses and its foundation was made with reinforced concrete. Also, the house, completed last year, was built to new hurricane building codes.

Some worry state will seize land
Pam Adams felt a sense of guilt that her home survived and those of her neighbors didn’t.

“It is just devastating. I feel so sorry for all these people,” she said. While their home remains standing, the first-floor garage was wiped away, the wooden staircase to the second floor was knocked out and the home’s interior suffered water and mud damage.

Warren Adams said he planned to repair and rebuild. But like many other Bolivar Peninsula residents who planned to do the same, he worried whether his home could be seized by the state because Ike eroded so much of the beach that it might now sit on public property.

Jim Vondra, 63, whose beachfront home in Crystal Beach was destroyed, said he plans to fight the state if it decides to claim his land.

“We’ve got plenty of lawyers,” he said. “We are going to go after them.”

The Bolivar Peninsula’s population more than doubles during the summer months with the arrival of tourists and beach home owners. The peninsula stretches 27 miles along the Texas Gulf Coast. It is bounded on one side by Galveston Bay and on the other by the Gulf of Mexico.

The peninsula, named for South American revolutionary hero Simón BolDivar, is about 3 miles at its widest point and about one-fourth of a mile at its narrowest. Its five residential communities are Crystal Beach, Port Bolivar, Caplen, Gilchrist and High Island.

Ike has been blamed for at least 64 deaths, including 29 in Texas. More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast.