The second chapter of “Forgotten” takes readers into the offices and conference rooms at city hall and the county courthouse as Galveston’s leaders made preparations for Hurricane Ike. The most important question they grappled with was if, and when, to call the evacuation. It was interesting to get the perspectives of Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, City Manager Steve LeBlanc and County Judge Jim Yarbrough months later, after some of the criticism over the evacuation had faded. But it was even more interesting to read the emails they sent to each other in the week before Ike came ashore.
I don’t plan to share any spoilers here. We want you to buy the book, after all! But I will say that while our city leaders insisted they wouldn’t call for an evacuation, they were making plans to do just that. They didn’t make the announcement, however, without some forceful prodding from state emergency management officials. Evidently, Houston television news anchors weren’t the only ones surprised that Galveston wasn’t in evacuation mode on Thursday morning.
Months after the storm, Thomas, LeBlanc and Yarbrough all admitted they didn’t realize at the time how serious the storm would be. Officials with the National Weather Service acknowledged their emphasis on the Safir-Simpson scale didn’t help. Most people, including city and county officials, stopped listening to the weather reports after they heard Ike labeled as a Category 2 storm. In their minds, Ike wasn’t even a major hurricane.
Although I’m sure the storm’s category played into officials’ failure to take it seriously, the island attitude of complacency toward hurricanes didn’t help. Galvestonians have a bravado about storms that permeates every level of society. We witnessed it in almost everyone we interviewed for the book. It will be interesting to see whether it persists after Ike.