In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston, Texas with a Category 5 equivalent storm surge and winds up to 120 mph at its center. Originating off the coast of Africa, Ike was responsible for at least 195 deaths:
Of these, 74 were in Haiti, which was already trying to recover from the impact of three storms earlier that year… In the United States, 112 people were killed, and 23 are still missing. Due to its immense size, Ike caused devastation from the Louisiana coastline all the way to the Kenedy County, Texas region near Corpus Christi, Texas. In addition, Ike caused flooding and significant damage along the Mississippi coastline and the Florida Panhandle. Damages from Ike in U.S. coastal and inland areas are estimated at $29.6 billion (2008 USD), with additional damage of $7.3 billion in Cuba (the costliest storm ever in that country), $200 million in the Bahamas, and $500 million in the Turks and Caicos, amounting to a total of at least $37.6 billion in damage… The hurricane also resulted in the largest evacuation of Texans in that state’s history. It also became the largest search-and-rescue operation in U.S. history.
Besides the devastation to homes and infrastructure, loss of life, billions of dollars needed for repairs and damage to Galveston’s tourism, it was also an ecological disaster. As Swamplot noted in November 2008 (bold casing from original article):
The island is in sad shape... What struck me most was the fact that all of the trees are dead. All of the beautiful live oaks, planted soon after the 1900 hurricane, are no more. They were killed by the flood of salt water. The only trees to survive are the palms and Norfolk Island pines. My best guess is that every deciduous tree more than 5 blocks from the seawall is dead.
Pictures from the tourist who commented on the aftermath (Lou Minatti) can be found here.
A Houston Chronicle article from June 2009 reported that 11,000 trees on city property and an additional 31,000 trees on private property were damaged or killed by the flooding. Many of these trees were century-old Live Oaks, beloved by residents and visitors alike:
On Tuesday, federal and state foresters and members of the city’s tree committee toured Ike-ravaged neighborhoods, where they were greeted by skeletal trees with sentimental poems and black ribbons affixed to their trunks.
“Thanks for keeping us cooler and cleaner and standing without complaint for years and years,” read one note attached to a leafless oak near the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Goodbye.”
Galveston’s historic homes and beachfront have long been punctuated and defined by the resplendent greenery of the region; the loss of these trees is not only ecological, but also cultural and iconic. It’s an absolute sucker-punch to the gut when residents were already reeling.
However, there has emerged a pelican (and a squirrel, a geisha, and a mermaid) from the ashes waters. Galveston Island Tree Conservancy member Donna Leibbert commissioned chainsaw sculptures out of dead trees within the Galveston historic district, and the results are poignant, beautiful, whimsical, and a symbolic representation of the resilience and dedication of Galveston Island residents.
While news of the BP oil spill came as a huge blow to a region still in recovery, and the further environmental and economic damage will take dozens of years and billions of dollars in recovery efforts, all of those dedicated to the area will do everything in their power to restore the coastline. And as a fifth-generation Texan, this is my coastline, my beach, and I thank the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy for shining a little light in the darkness with their creativity and remembrance efforts.
If you’d like to send money to help with oil spill relief, consider checking out Lifehacker’s charity guide.