The following is a first-hand account of the destruction of Galveston Island by Hurricane Ike by Mark Collette, former Tyler Paper reporter, who lives there with his wife, Rhiannon Meyers, also a former Tyler Paper reporter and now a reporter for the Galveston County Daily News.
Collette sent an e-mail, from which this information was included, to let friends and family know they are doing fine.
The island, as a whole, looks like a war zone. The structures that weren't destroyed have been ruined by water. Fire destroyed at least 17 buildings. One entire apartment building collapsed.
Every structure built over the water in front of the Seawall was destroyed and left little trace, except for the Flagship Hotel, which was severely damaged and separated from the island.
Some people are believed to still be inside but cannot be reached immediately because the pilings on the building were damaged, so a helicopter can't land on top.
Much if not most of the property on the Bolivar Peninsula is now debris. Homes on the West End of Galveston Island that used to be behind the dunes are now over open water. The Seawall was covered in chunks of concrete that weigh hundreds of pounds.
Authorities are still in search-and-rescue mode. About 24,000 people didn't heed evacuation orders. Rescuers are leaving the dead in houses and moving on to look for the living.
Unlike in New Orleans after Katrina, they are not spray painting a giant "X" on a building when they find bodies. Instead, they are putting discrete stickers on the buildings. On the one hand, government officials seem to be trying to keep the media from portraying the true extent of the disaster, but on the other hand officers are tipping off reporters about deaths and rescues.
Rhiannon said the amount of buildings reduced to rubble suggests that more bodies will be found and the magnitude of the disaster will become clearer in the coming days.
A couple thousand have probably been rescued, a couple thousand have left the island on buses since the storm. Thankfully, for those who remain, the government has arrived with food, water and ice, and the weather has cooled so that people can stay comfortable just with open windows.
Rhiannon said those now choosing to remain on the island are mostly poor, homeless, sick and/or elderly. One guy on Bolivar refused to leave because rescuers refused to accommodate his pet lion. The folks on the peninsula are a different breed.
Boats and other debris crashed into the causeway linking the island to the mainland. Construction on the new causeway was almost complete before the storm, but the southbound side was still a section or two short of reaching the mainland. Now, the lanes of the northbound side that were being used for southbound traffic are inaccessible because the road buckled in the storm.
Because of that and lack of services, it's going to be a while before anybody is allowed back on the island. There's talk that the city plans on letting only residents back in on Tuesday, and even then making them return to the mainland by nightfall. I doubt this will happen by Tuesday because of the ongoing search and rescue efforts.
As for our first-floor apartment (located a few blocks inland from the Seawall), there were 8 inches to a foot of water inside. This means water at street level was at least waist deep, and it also means there wasn't any part of the island's surface that didn't get submerged.
The walls in our apartment that are parallel to the Seawall had watermarks as high as three feet, suggesting that waves rolled through the building somehow, even though the windows didn't break. Rhiannon said the smell is awful. But we have renter's insurance, and I took all the photos and most of the other keepsakes with me when I evacuated.
At the top of a fence at a school near our apartment, Rhiannon saw debris that got caught when the water was at or above the fence. That means that area was under at least 8 feet of water.
(During the hurricane) Rhiannon and about 800 other reporters, city officials and emergency workers holed up in the San Luis Resort hotel on the Seawall. The hotel is built atop an old military bunker and is probably the highest point on the island.
The storm surge never made it into the lobby, but rainwater penetrated the upper floors, drained through the walls and bubbled into the lobby, covering the floor by a few inches.
Before the wind got too strong, Rhiannon was on the 15th floor with a group of firefighters who watched fires burn around the city and were unable to do anything about it because most of the island was already under water. When the wind picked up, everyone went downstairs.
She and the rest of the newspaper staff have been resilient. The newspaper's normal disaster plan calls for establishing a temporary copy desk in Houston while some reporters stay on the island at the Daily News, a super sturdy building with huge generators.
No one counted on water rising high enough to flood the generators. Editors were cut off from reporters, and reporters from each other, so for the first day following the storm, the reporters were basically operating on auto-pilot with very little coordination, but you wouldn't know it from the stories they filed.
Many thanks for all your thoughts and prayers.