GALVESTON ISLAND, Texas — Imagine a city full of debris dumped in front of City Hall and you will only begin to measure the devastation Texas residents are faced with as they cleanup after Hurricane Ike pummeled the coastline in the early morning hours of Sept. 14.
Local teams from Royal Plus Disaster Kleenup have been on the scene since the storm ripped the Texas coastline, starting the clean-up in Corpus Christi, moving onto Houston and finally onto Galveston.
Jim Mathias, local spokesperson for Royal Plus and senior disaster relief team leader, spoke via phone from the scene on Galveston Island, a small resort community that according to him “is very similar to Ocean City, Md.”
“The quality of life has been taken away for so many people in this little resort community of Galveston and for those that were fortunate enough to have their homes spared, everything that makes up their community, from power to water to food and emergency services, are essentially gone,” said Mathias, a state delegate and former Ocean City mayor.
Royal Plus Disaster Kleenup on Delmarva is one of the few companies that have been allowed on the island ito assist with the damage caused by Ike. Over 400 employees of Royal Plus’s mid-Atlantic team, including approximately 100 local workers are spearheading the relief work on commercial properties in the area.
Mathias said that the focus is to help get the workforce back up and running so that the community will have something to come back to and help pay for the rebuilding process.
“It’s been an amazing recovery thus far. Our teams have been working hand in hand with town officials and state officials to try to help a small community get back on its feet after losing some, if not all, of their way of life in a blink of an eye,” Mathias said.
Wednesday marked “re-entry” day for many Galveston residents, causing a 10-hour highway backup. Some residents were allowed to move back in, but those who live behind the sea wall, which was built in 1900 after a hurricane killed 8,000 people in Galveston, were only allowed to return for a few hours on a “look and leave” basis.
Damage assessments from the American Red Cross site estimate that in Harris and Galveston counties, over 16,500 homes were damaged, over 3,400 incurred major damage, and 1,500 were totally destroyed.
According to Mathias, the storm surge rolled over the sea wall 6-8 feet and crippled much of the town’s municipal services, making the cleanup efforts almost impossible if not for outside help. He likened the damage to if all of, “old town Ocean City were including City Hall to be underwater.”
Another thing that should be noted in addition to the cleanup efforts provided by Royal Plus is the fact that they are recruiting some of the displaced area workers to provide jobs to those out of work. As far as cleanup accomplishments, Mathias says that there is much work to be done, and Royal Plus will probably have a presence in the region for “at least 6 months.”
Though small steps are being made, like completion of repairs on the power grid, residents may still be without power as the city officials have advised residents to “not energize” if they were hit by the storm surge as electrifying salt-water soaked electrical lines could cause widespread fires.
Residents with health conditions, the elderly, and those who have special needs are being encouraged not to return at this point despite Wednesday’s re-entry day as conditions are still to be considered critical.
Mathias said that part of Royal Plus’ mission is to “help another community just like Ocean City”, and praised the planning and preparation, in minimizing loss of life and property.
“You can rebuild all the loss of technology tomorrow with better phones or more up to date computers, but what you can’t replace is the past,” Mathias said. “For Galveston, a large part of their history has been erased, and the cleanup efforts of Royal Plus and those other people involved are in an effort to help this town regain it’s identity after a disaster such as this.”
Mathias, the spokesperson and team leader, momentarily sounded like Mathias the former mayor as he cited the “American Spirit” shining through the storm clouds as thousands of strangers worked together to help out thousands of other strangers displaced by tragedy.
For Royal Plus Disaster Kleenup of Delmarva, it was another day at the office.