Anyone who still doesn’t believe hurricane surge washes away what the wind destroys need look no further Galveston Island’s Beachtown after Hurricane Ike for evidence.
Hurricane Ike hit Galveston Island in the early morning hours of September 13th, 2008. The sheer size of the hurricane impacted a majority of the Texas Gulf Coast, in addition to the SW Gulf Coast of Louisiana.
At the East End of Galveston Island, the hurricane delivered its fiercest winds as well as a storm surge not experienced since the devastating hurricane of 1900. Beachtown found itself in the unenviable position of receiving the dirty side of the hurricane and Ike’s relentless punches delivered from the Northeast…
Galveston Island was inundated with hurricane debris, including boats lying in the streets and esplanades….a devastating blow to Galveston Island. There were clear signs of Ike’s presence at Beachtown, as many of the streets and lawns were covered by a layer of sand brought by the storm surge.
However,most compelling was the condition in which the residences and other structures lay… largely unscathed. Signs of hurricane Ike’s impact were limited to the breakaway sections of the structures. The buildings’ structures performed outstandingly. The habitable floors remained undamaged despite the horrific forces of Ike.
FEMA and the City of Galveston require the enclosed portion of structures located below Base Flood Elevation (as is the case for coastal communities and beachfront homes) be designed to break-away with the impact of a hurricane force, leaving the main structure intact. Ground Floor breakaway materials, such as louver panel assemblies and garage doors, separated as designed.
The acres of slabs along the Coast are a painful reminder of what was lost and it can be difficult to imagine the possibilities. We often compare Katrina’s destruction to that of Hurricane Camille. In Texas, the benchmark event prior to Ike was the hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900.
The Hurricane of 1900 made landfall on the city of Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900. It had estimated winds of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) at landfall, making it a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
The hurricane caused great loss of life with the estimated death toll between 6,000 and 12,000 individuals; the number most cited in official reports is 8,000, giving the storm the third-highest number of casualties of any Atlantic hurricane, after the Great Hurricane of 1780 and 1998’s Hurricane Mitch. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is to date the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. By contrast, the second-deadliest storm to strike the United States, the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, caused approximately 2,500 deaths, and the deadliest storm of recent times, Hurricane Katrina, claimed the lives of approximately 1,800 people.
A seawall built after the hurricane has provided protection for Galveston for over a century.
After the storm cleared, the city decided to shore up its defenses against future storms: a permanent concrete seawall was built along a large portion of the beach front and the entire grade of the city was raised some 17 feet (5 m) behind the wall to a few feet near the Bay
Construction began in September, 1902, and the initial segment was completed on July 29, 1904. From 1904 to 1963, the seawall was extended from 3.3 miles (5.3 km) to over 10 miles (16 km) long. Reporting in the aftermath of the 1983 Hurricane Alicia, the Corps of Engineers estimated that $100 million in damage was avoided because of the seawall. On September 12, 2008 Hurricane Ike forced waves to go over the top of the seawall…The seawall is presently 10 miles (16 km) long. It is approximately 17 feet (5.2 m) high, and 16 feet (4.9 m) thick at its base. The seawall was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2001.
While the seawall protected life and property, the storm stalled economic development and the city of Houston grew into the region’s principal metropolis.
Despite attempts to draw new investment to the city after the hurricane, Galveston never fully returned to its previous levels of national importance or prosperity. Development was also hindered by the construction of the Houston Ship Channel, which brought the Port of Houston into direct competition with the natural harbor of the Port of Galveston for sea traffic…
The seawall could not protect Galveston from Houston because time does not stand still for rebuilding. We know that all too well.
Beachtown, however, provides an example of the possibilities – a place where hope for safe coastal living is not a plan but a reality.
One would think the compelling evidence of Ike the windstorm provided by the fortified construction of Beachtown would have made easy work of settling TWIA and other insurance claims; but, that does not appear to be the case.
Because surge and other flooding followed, anything the wind made vulnerable was subject to distinctly separate water damage – translated into the language of insurance litigation this means wind pays full coverage.
It also translates one of the more common threats as total bull#%!&. Policy holders can claim property was 100% destroyed by wind and still accept payment for the water damage that follows. Fraud that is not – fraud is billing wind damage to the NFIP and claiming it is reasonable.
Today’s version of a seawall is fortified construction and affordable insurance. Working cooperatively and honestly, we can build the economy of coastal Mississippi and, as Governor Barbour has encouraged, build back better than ever.