Ike-damaged Galveston goes on with Mardi Gras fest
GALVESTON, Texas -- Hundreds of revelers gathered Saturday to celebrate an annual Mardi Gras tradition in a show of support for this island ravaged by Hurricane Ike's powerful storm surge just five months ago.
"I see this as a hopeful sign," said Sue Orta, a reveler from Houston who has a home on Galveston Island. "The city will recover."
About 75 percent of the homes in Galveston sustained damage from Ike's 110-mph winds, rain and 12-foot storm surge when the hurricane came ashore just outside the city Sept. 13. Revelers and some of the floats in Saturday's parade, the first of three in the celebration, paid homage to the storm.
One float was decorated with the blue tarp material that still covers hundreds of roofs in the area. Phrases such as "No lights" and "No phone" and the word "Ike" with a line drawn through it were written on the float.
Some spectators wore T-shirts that read "I Survived Ike."
City officials had worried the destruction caused by Ike might cancel the celebration, which has been a citywide tradition since 1985. The city first celebrated Mardi Gras in 1867.
But the island bounced back, with Saturday's parade route snaking along the island's famed seawall, once littered with debris washed ashore by Ike. Other parades were scheduled for later in The Strand, the city's historic downtown district that's under repair.
The celebration attracts more than 200,000 people over two weekends and serves as a boost to the island's economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. RoShelle Gaskins, a spokeswoman for the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Mardi Gras event has an economic impact of about $22 million.
Orta said she and her husband have tried to support Galveston by attending other events the city has sponsored since the island was devastated by the costliest storm in Texas history.
"It's great to see all these people down here. But it's important they spend as well," she said.