- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

GALVESTON, Texas | Mymi Freedman’s memories of Hurricane Ike’s immediate aftermath still linger, especially in one sense.

“The smell - everything was rotten,” she said Sunday, sitting in her garage with her husband, Sergio, and reflecting on the year that has passed since Ike damaged thousands of homes, including her own, on the Texas island city of Galveston.

Residents like Mrs. Freedman, 58, remembered Ike’s destruction but also celebrated rebuilding efforts, saying the storm has brought people closer since it made landfall just outside Galveston in the early-morning hours of Sept. 13, 2008.

Mr. Freedman, 62, said he is amazed at Galveston’s progress, describing the city as a “war zone” right after the hurricane.

A year ago, entry into the city was hazardous; the only road onto the island was littered with boats tossed onto the pavement like toys by Ike’s powerful storm surge.

Many neighborhoods were inundated with murky, muddy water sometimes contaminated by sewage and chemicals. Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard was covered in rocks, splintered wood and other debris.

The hurricane damaged 75 percent of the working-class city’s houses. Galveston suffered more than $3.2 billion in damage. The city’s largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch, temporarily shut down and had to lay off about 3,000 employees.

Ike also destroyed or damaged thousands of other homes from the southeast Texas Gulf Coast into Houston, 50 miles inland. It also submerged farmland and ranches in saltwater, scoured away beaches and ruined thousands of acres of vegetation.

It 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. Ike was blamed for at least 72 deaths in the U.S., including 37 in Texas.

But on Sunday in Galveston, the scene was vastly different. The streets were filled with traffic, replenished beaches played host to tourists and residents, and many flooded homes - including the Freedmans’ - had been repaired.

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

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