In a word, that’s how Hospital Galveston CO IV Ricky Mott describes Hurricane Ike’s assault on Galveston Island in the pre-dawn hours of September 13 and the destruction it left behind.
“It was like watching a scary movie, like the movie Day After Tomorrow based on the world ending,” Mott said from the Goree Unit Clubhouse in Huntsville where he and his mother were staying two days after the Category 2 storm roared ashore with winds of 110 miles per hour and torrential downpours. “I was scared of the storm to the extent of not knowing what to expect, not knowing what was going to happen.”
Mott was one of approximately 35 officers who stayed on to man the hospital facility after all of its offenders had been moved inland ahead of the storm’s landfall.
“This was worse than Katrina (for Galveston) because the whole island got washed out,” said CO V Samuel Mayes, another of the officers on duty at Hospital Galveston when the storm hit.
Heavy rains and waves topping the seawall quickly flooded the sallyport and ground floor of the hospital, the officers said. They spent the hours before and after landfall emptying a first floor armory of its contents and helping employees of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which provides TDCJ with health care services, move equipment out of the hospital’s second floor operating theatres. The officers rode out the storm on the seventh floor of the hospital that was built to weather winds even stronger than those of Ike.
“You could hear the wind whistling, but the building stood up to the storm pretty good,” said CO V Bernard Hernandez, another officer evacuated to Huntsville after Galveston Island had been sealed off. “It was just the flooding. I’ve never seen a storm surge like that. I went through Hurricane Alicia in 1983 and it wasn’t anything like this.”
“Ike was big, bigger than I think anyone here on the island imagined,” Hospital Galveston Senior Warden Monty Hudspeth said. “Many of our employees lost everything and we are going to need a lot of prayers to recover.”
Approximately 59 officers and members of their families were evacuated from Galveston to the Sam Houston State University Coliseum in Huntsville a day after Ike made landfall. The Goree Unit Clubhouse was later opened for them as well as for the officers that had accompanied offenders evacuated from the Terrell Unit near Brazoria. Mott’s mother, Stephanie Mott, was one of several family members Warden Hudspeth invited to ride out the storm inside the sturdy hospital.
“I probably wouldn’t have survived,” she said about the storm’s devastating effects on her home on the island’s East End. “I lost everything, but thank God, I have my life.”
“He needs an appreciation certificate,” her son said about Warden Hudspeth’s offer to shelter his mother and the family members of other officers from the storm.
Warden Hudspeth said his decision to shelter the family members was “the easiest decision to make throughout the whole ordeal.”
“TDCJ has always been like a second family to me,” he said. “The officers and staff of the Carole Young/Hospital Galveston facilities are my second family. I could no more have turned those families out to face the uncertain fate of Ike than I could my own wife and children.”
While Hospital Galveston remained closed, the more than 300 security officers assigned there were reassigned to units of their choice in Dayton, Beaumont and Texas City. UTMB, meanwhile, contracted with community hospitals to provide TDCJ with emergency care, specialty care, and acute hospitalization services. The University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Tyler provided 60 beds for TDCJ offenders, and the missions of the agency’s regional medical facilities in Huntsville and Texas City were expanded to include on-site specialty care clinics conducted by UTMB physicians.
Health Services Division Director Dr. Lannette Linthicum said UTMB obstetricians from Galveston were traveling to the Crain Unit in Gatesville and the Plane Unit in Dayton to provide prenatal care to pregnant offenders while Hospital Galveston remained out of service. Deliveries were being done at a Waco hospital affiliated with the Scott and White Clinic, she said. Also, offenders suffering from cancer were moved to medical facilities in the Huntsville area, where contracts for radiation therapy and chemotherapy had been established with treatment centers.
Dr. Linthicum said UTMB hoped to bring 32 beds at Hospital Galveston back on line by mid-November. The remaining 330 beds were to be phased in as the resources and infrastructure became available, she said.
“Galveston took a big hit but it is still here and the people who live here love this island and we can’t wait to show Texas and the world that we have what it takes to bring this city back more beautiful than before,” Warden Hudsepth said.
Several other TDCJ facilities along the Texas Gulf Coast found themselves in the eye of the storm when Ike roared ashore and swept though highly-populated areas of Southeast Texas. It knocked out power and phone service to TDCJ units and parole offices throughout the region, including Huntsville, where the agency’s central command center had to be relocated because of downed phone lines. Some TDCJ offices were also temporarily relocated because of power outages.
In Beaumont, the Stiles, Gist and LeBlanc facilities were notified to boil water for a short time after the city’s water system was inundated with salt water from the storm surge. Also, a water wagon was sent to the Duncan Unit in Diboll after generators powering the city’s water system were temporarily knocked out of service. In all, 41 TDCJ facilities were without power and running on generators immediately following the storm. Structural damage to prison facilities, however, was minor to moderate and no serious injuries were reported among offenders or staff.
“I think with this hurricane we were challenged in ways that we never thought we’d be challenged,” said TDCJ Incident Manager Darin Pacher. “We had 41 facilities without power all at one time. With Hurricane Rita (in 2005) we had just nine at the height of the storm.”
Another unit hit hard by Ike was the Lewis facility in Woodville, which was still operating on generator power a week after the storm blew through. Senior Warden Greg Dawson said winds damaged the roof of the unit’s expansion dormitory, which had been evacuated of offenders prior to the storm’s arrival. The roof of the furniture factory at Lewis was also damaged, and the roofs to the horse barn and dog kennel were lost.
In Ike’s wake, Warden Dawson said arrangements were made with the Tyler County Emergency Operations Center to pick up water, ice, and ready-to-eat meals for distribution to employees and their families.
“Our supervisors established a distribution point in the parking lot where each employee was provided a daily supply of food, water, and ice for their entire family at the end of shift,” he said. “All they had to do was drive up and we loaded it in their vehicles for them.”
In addition to Hospital Galveston, TDCJ evacuated offenders from the Terrell and Clemens units in Brazoria County as well as from the Carol Young Medical Facility in Texas City before Ike’s landfall. Earlier, the agency had emptied the Glossbrenner Unit near San Diego and the Stevenson Unit in Cuero in response to initial forecasts that called for the storm to strike near Corpus Christi. Evacuees from coastal units were sheltered in Huntsville, Palestine, Gatesville, Beeville and Kenedy.
Meanwhile, nearly 1,100 high-risk parolees without approved evacuation addresses were identified prior to the storm’s landfall and moved to inland detention facilities. As Ike steered toward Corpus Christi, 116 of the parolees were bused out of the area to TDCJ’s Chase Field complex in Beeville. Once the storm turned to the northeast, another 975 high-risk parolees from coastal counties were moved to secure facilities in Sugar Land, Marlin, Houston, and Henderson. There they were supervised by teams of parole officers brought in beforehand from throughout the state. The day following landfall, 486 parolees were moved from a damaged halfway house in Houston to the Terrell Unit near Angleton, which had earlier been emptied of offenders by TDCJ in anticipation of Ike’s strike along the upper Texas coast.
In all, approximately 85 buses were used to move nearly 7,000 offenders and parolees out of harm’s way, the largest evacuation carried out by TDCJ since Hurricane Rita in September 2005.
Deputy Director of Field Operations Jay Patzke said the division’s district office in Galveston was damaged beyond repair and that its 19 employees were working out of the Angleton office while the agency searched for new quarters for them. Five parole offices in Houston were also damaged, three severely, Patzke said.
In Ike’s wake, TDCJ mobilized a number of offender work crews to assist communities with the monumental task of cleaning up debris.
“It’s just another indication that our staff knows how to pull together and rise to the occasion,” TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston said about the agency’s response to adversity. “I’m proud of you all.”
Hurricane Ike was one in a series of storms that affected TDCJ in recent months. In August, the agency evacuated more than 3,200 offenders from two Beaumont-area facilities in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav making landfall along the upper Texas coast.
Prior to the hurricane’s eventual Labor Day landfall in southwestern Louisiana, TDCJ bused the 3,229 offenders from the LeBlanc and Gist facilities to eight different inland prison units. Nearly 1,120 LeBlanc offenders and their accompanying escort officers rode out the storm at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville and the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. Another 2,110 offenders and accompanying staff from the Gist State Jail were sheltered at the Beto, Coffield, Gurney, Michael and Powledge facilities in Palestine and at the Ferguson Unit in Midway. The Estelle Unit outside Huntsville housed 14 special-needs offenders from the maximum-security Stiles Unit in Beaumont, but the remaining offenders at Stiles were not moved from the storm-sturdy facility.
TDCJ also moved 383 halfway house offenders and high-risk parolees out of the Beaumont area to facilities in Henderson and Beeville for the duration of the storm. Approximately 330 offenders from a privately operated facility in Jefferson County were moved to private facilities in Cleveland and Newton, while 150 Texas Youth Commission (TYC) offenders were bused by TDCJ to TYC facilities in Mart, Corsicana, and Crockett. More than 80 TDCJ buses were used in the evacuation that was completed without incident.
All evacuated offenders were returned to the units of assignments within two days of the storm’s landfall. No injuries or significant damage was reported.
In early August, Tropical Storm Edouard caused little damage to TDCJ facilities after making landfall east of Galveston and then moving inland over the Houston area.
High winds blew off a vent hood and some piping shields at the Stiles Unit and a barn under construction at the neighboring Gist State Jail lost some shingles as the storm passed through southeast Texas. All TDCJ units in the projected path of the storm had braced for harsh conditions well in advance of its landfall and no serious damage, power outages, or personal injuries were reported.
In July, Hurricane Dolly caused power outages and some damage to private and state-operated prison facilities after making landfall in south Texas.