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Texas city ravaged by Ike marks anniversary

Image: In this combination photo, at left, a home burns during Hurrican Ike, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008,  in Galveston, Texas. At right, the same scene is photographed Aug. 16, 2009
In this combination photo, at left, a home burns during Hurrican Ike, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008, in Galveston, Texas. At right, the same scene is photographed Aug. 16, 2009, in Galveston, Texas. Smiley N. Pool / The Houston Chronicle
/ Source: The Associated Press

Residents of Galveston on Sunday remembered the destruction Hurricane Ike inflicted on their Texas island city a year ago, but they also celebrated the community's efforts to rebuild, saying the storm has brought people closer together.

During a sunrise memorial service to mark the storm's anniversary, clergy from the island's different faiths talked of the strides their community has made since Ike made landfall just outside Galveston in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2008.

"You can see behind me a new day has dawned. A new day has dawned on our community," the Rev. David Green of the First Presbyterian Church said in a sun-filled ballroom at the Hotel Galvez. About 100 people gathered for the service at the historic hotel near the beach.

The service was part of a nearly weeklong series of events to highlight rebuilding and recovery efforts in the year since Ike hit.

Storm damaged 75 percent of city's houses
Through the windows behind Green one could see Galveston's Seawall Boulevard, which runs along the beach and a year ago had been covered in rocks, sand, splintered wood and other debris that had been deposited there by Ike's powerful storm surge. On Sunday, cars flowed along the boulevard and people sat or walked along the beach.

A year ago, bleary-eyed residents used dawn's first light to survey the destruction to their homes. Many homes were unrecognizable, said the Rev. Helen Appelberg, with St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church.

The hurricane damaged 75 percent of the city's houses and as well as thousands of other homes in cities from the southeast Texas Gulf Coast into Houston, which is 50 miles inland. It also submerged farmland and ranches in saltwater, scoured away beaches and ruined thousands of acres of vegetation.

Galveston suffered more than $3.2 billion in damage. The working-class city's largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch, temporarily shut down and had to lay off about 3,000 employees.

Ike was the costliest natural disaster in Texas history. Its powerful surge reached as high as 20 feet and its 110 mph winds caused more than $29 billion in damage. The storm caused flooding and deaths as far away as Pennsylvania and Illinois. Ike was blamed for at least 72 deaths in the U.S., including 37 in Texas.

Residents say city has long way to go
Appelberg asked residents to hold on to their hope for a better future.

"Let the hope that rests in each of our hearts grow and grow into the flower of new life in every corner of this city," she said.

Galveston has been able to bounce back after Ike. City leaders says 75 percent of businesses are now open and tourists have returned.

But residents say the city still has a long way to go. About 3,000 of the city's 58,000 residents still have not returned. Mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency still dot driveways and front lawns of many neighborhoods.

"The community is still hurting," said Elizabeth Godbehere, 59, who was born on the island. "But we've been making tremendous efforts to support each other as a community."

Neighborhoods around Galveston are expected to hold block parties and cook outs later Sunday to reconnect.