GALVESTON, Texas — After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, many speculated that if a similar disaster hit Texas, the Bush administration would respond more positively. Over two months after Hurricane Ike struck, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Once a bustling tourist-oriented city with a strong medical center and vibrant African-American community, Galveston now appears to be a ghost town, devastated first by the storm and now by the cruelty of capitalism.
Some, including Bush’s crony, Texas Governor Rick Perry, expected more from the administration since the current lame-duck president claims to be from Texas. According to the Dallas Morning News, Perry, who appears to have been recently reborn as Governor of the People, has complained loudly that “President George W. Bush didn’t even know of the Texas request for aid when the governor spoke with the president by phone last week.” The News editorialized, “Texas coastal communities are waiting for help. Hundreds of residents still live in tents, disabled cars and condemned homes as they await Federal Emergency Management Agency inspectors, insurance adjusters, mobile homes and utilities. If this is emergency management, we’d hate to see emergency mismanagement.”
Soon after Hurricane Ike struck on Sept. 12, stories circulated of National Guard troops starving at a football stadium near my home. It turned out that the stadium was a huge staging area for evacuation of Ike’s survivors.
There, National Guard troops and Texas public safety officers refused to talk with me. But motor coach operators contracted to evacuate people from the Gulf Coast told me that though some arrived as early as Aug. 27 because of the earlier Hurricane Gustav, they were not provided with suitable housing or food while on duty, and were not allowed off the premises to obtain food. Fortunately, nearby working people heard of their plight and brought huge quantities of food.
After the storm, FEMA quickly put blue tarps over damaged roofs in Houston and Galveston. Now many of my friends, neighbors and co-workers are suffering while FEMA fiddles over whether to pay for needed repairs. Meanwhile, Bush has pushed through billions in bailout money for the wealthiest corporations which presumably still have a roof over their head.
In early November — two months after Ike hit — the Galveston Daily News/ reported that 77 percent of upper Texas Coast residents who had requested assistance had “fallen through the gaps in the safety net the government spreads wide to help victims of natural disasters” because “they did not qualify for help under federal guidelines.” Meanwhile, many residents remain homeless or are residing in substandard housing.
To add insult to injury, over 3,000 people have been laid off from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, which is the only state facility in the area and has served many indigent patients for a long time.
Though it is unconscionable that after a catastrophe like Hurricane Ike, the first targets would be public health facilities, this only mirrors the closing of the Charity Hospital and the VA Medical Center in downtown New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The layoffs are a severe financial blow to Galveston County. UTMB was the city’s largest employer. Union officials from the Texas State Employees Union continue to press the University regents to reinstate workers. Galveston’s City Council is urging the UTMB Board of Regents “to fully support the university and its historic mission of tending to the medical needs of the indigent.”
Meanwhile, the UTMB system, which has cared for inmates in the Texas prison systems, has closed its 365-bed prison hospital. Sick inmates are now being sent to other facilities throughout the state.
A bipartisan group of Texas Congressmembers including Nick Lampson, Gene Green, Kevin Brady, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chet Edwards, Louie Gohmert, Al Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee is pressing FEMA to provide much-needed services to Ike’s survivors.
The survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike and their supporters should unite to demand that the Gulf Coast be rebuilt and a priority be placed on the recovery of families rather than extending the profits of the world’s largest corporations. We need a bailout of those inundated by natural catastrophe.