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Relief checks presented to assist employees victimized by Hurricane Ike

Velicia Burns and husband stand in front of demolished home
Hospital Galveston Food Service Sgt. Velicia Burns stands with her husband Clifford in front of the wreckage of their home on 54th Street in Galveston. Floodwaters from Hurricane Ike also destroyed the couple’s apartment.

Photo by David Nunnelee

It was love at first sight for Terrie Hudspeth. After living in several different communities during the course of her husband’s career with TDCJ, she fell in love with Galveston Island immediately upon his assignment to the hospital unit there in October 2007.

“She said, ‘Well, this is where I’m going to retire, and you can move all over the state if you want to, but I’ll be right here,’” Warden Hudspeth said about his wife’s non-negotiable decision to buy a retirement home for the two of them on the island. And in April 2008, they did just that, settling on a one-story home on 53rd Street that they were letting their daughter live in while they continued to stay in a two-story house provided through the state on Ferry Road. Neither residence would survive the storm.

A five-foot wall of water swept by the storm surge inundated the first floor of the couple’s state house, leaving only a few beds and nightstands upstairs until the roof finally collapsed in on top of them. The home provided through the University Texas Medical Branch won’t be repaired. Meanwhile, the couple’s single-story private home suffered so much damage that it was red tagged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That meant they would either have to tear down their retirement home or move what remained of it to another location. They could also rebuild on the same site but at an elevation at least 11 feet above the flood plain. The Hudspeths appealed that decision and won a favorable ruling in December, allowing them to rebuild without raising the site elevation.

Wendolyn Jackson didn’t have to move out of her Texas City home after Hurricane Ike. Its roof damage could be repaired. But when her cousins called to tell her that they had lost everything in the storm, she decided to move out and let them move in.
“They needed it more than I did,” she said about the home she had lived in since 1990.

Jackson moved to an apartment only to learn three months later that she would have to vacate it because toxic mold had been found. But instead of simply returning to her home, she found another apartment.

“I didn’t want to go back to my home, and the reason I didn’t want to go back is because everything there brings back memories,” she said.

Despite her travails, Jackson doesn’t feel like she was victimized by the storm.

“I tell everybody that I’m still blessed,” she said. “I look at it like everything happens for a reason. I look at it like the Lord won’t put on me more than I can bear and that this is a test to see how much I can bear. And I bear it.”

Jackson said the $500 relief check from NAAWS couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It’s going to help me move,” she said.

As he watched the water rise outside TDCJ’s hospital facility in Galveston, Robert Goodley figured that some of the rains from Hurricane Ike would probably seep into his first-floor apartment on Ferry Road. What he wasn’t prepared for was the five feet of water that would actually rush in.

“I was anxious about going home,” said Goodley, who rode out the storm on duty at the hospital. “I’d never seen the water that high, so I was pretty much sure that it might have gotten in. I didn’t think it would be that bad, though.”

Goodley got his first inkling of how bad it was when he tried to open the door to his apartment.

“I couldn’t open the door,” he said. “The air conditioning unit was blown all the way to the door, so I couldn’t get it open. It took me a while to get it open, and when I did, I saw that the whole place was wrecked.”

Goodley lost all his furnishings and clothing inside the apartment.

“I happened to have some clothes in a suitcase because I had been taking offenders to Huntsville,” he said. “So the clothing I had in the suitcase was pretty much it. I lost everything else.”

Goodley stayed with friends and co-workers until he could arrange for an apartment on the third floor of the complex he had been living in. He said the $500 check from NAAWS would cover some of the debt he incurred in replacing the things he lost.

“It was unexpected and I definitely appreciate it,” he said. “I’m going to put it in the bank and try to get rid of this debt. I’m just taking things one day at a time.”

The two-story house at 1201 54th Street in Galveston had been in Velicia Burns’ family for years. It was where she and her husband Clifford had planned to move to sometime this year. But that was before Hurricane Ike destroyed both the home and the first-floor apartment the couple had been occupying at a complex owned by the University of Texas Medical Branch on Ferry Road. So at year’s end, the once residence-rich couple was living in a single room at a local hotel where she said they faced eviction if they tried to cook for themselves.

“This will help us to where we can go out and eat because we don’t have anywhere to cook,” she said about the $500 check from NAAWS. “It doesn’t matter how little or how great it is, it still helps.”

Taking heed of the call for a mandatory evacuation of Galveston, Burns fled to Navasota ahead of the storm. There she learned in a call from her sister that Ike’s winds had flattened her house. But she still hoped to find something left of her apartment once she was allowed to return to the island. Instead she found little more than mud and mold.

“When I was finally able to get in my home, I was really devastated,” she said. “Everything was turned upside down. It was like someone had gone in there and ransacked it. It was just really a sight. I lost everything.”

Still, Burns, who had just undergone hip replacement surgery, was counting her blessings. She said she and her husband plan to rebuild the home on 54th Street once they can get the debris removed. And until they could find other affordable housing, they would continue to live in the hotel.

The downstairs of Karen Martinez’s two-story rent house in Galveston was the center of her world. It had a full library, a lounge area and a workout room. It was where she did most of her living.

“It was very nice,” she said.

Now it’s gone, and she can hardly bring herself to go downstairs to finish cleaning up after Hurricane Ike.

“It was so devastating that I don’t like to go down there and finish it,” she said three months after the storm. “I’ve been avoiding it. I did what I needed to do just to stop any future problems. It’s just too much for me now.”

Martinez, a New York City native, had just returned to Galveston from a TDCJ assignment out of town when Ike struck.

“I sustained about four feet of water,” she said. “I pretty much lost everything downstairs.”
The storm also separated Martinez from her daughter who had been attending college in Galveston but had to enroll in a mainland school following the storm. She said the relief check from NAAWS was particularly meaningful to her.

“I think this has a lot more than monetary value,” she said.

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