HOUSTON — Officials from Galveston will ask Congress for about $2.2 billion in disaster relief this week to repair the battered island’s port, save a major research hospital from going under and rebuild the city’s infrastructure.
The estimate of the damage done when Hurricane Ike raked the island on Sept. 13 was breathtaking. With 57,000 residents, the amount officials are asking for works out to about $36,800 a resident.
In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the federal government has disbursed about $100 billion for things like housing reconstruction and infrastructure repairs along the entire Gulf Coast.
Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas of Galveston will appear before the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery on Tuesday morning and will ask the federal government to foot the bill for $1.1 billion in damage to the city.
Mayor Bill White of Houston and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will also appear before the subcommittee, though neither intends to ask for a specific amount of money. Aides to both men said it was too early to assess the damage fully.
Galveston officials said the $1.1 billion would go to fix water, sewerage and drainage systems as well as traffic signals, roads and bridges. The city is also asking for money to build housing, give grants to small business owners and restore beaches, City Manager Steve LeBlanc said.
All this will be in addition to the money the city has received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for cleaning up debris, he said. “We’re not going up asking for something we’re already getting,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
At the same time, the University of Texas Medical Branch — the oldest medical school in Texas and a major center of research on infectious diseases — will request $609 million to get the complex’s six hospitals, medical school and various research centers up and running, Dr. Ben G. Raimer, a vice president of the school, said.
The Port of Galveston is seeking $500 million to repair docks, warehouses, fences and parts of the giant bulkhead wall that separates the island from the channel, Steven M. Cernak, Galveston port director, said.
Mr. LeBlanc acknowledged that the amount the city was seeking might raise questions in Congress, which is wrestling with whether to approve a $700 billion plan to bail out Wall Street. But, he said, “These are legitimate requests.”
Dr. Raimer said the university’s board bought only $100 million worth of insurance to cover the medical school, teaching hospital and various research laboratories, including the new Galveston National Laboratory, which is to investigate, among other things, pathogens used as biological weapons.
The medical center is in shambles, officials said. Flooding on the first floor of the main hospital knocked out $8 million worth of equipment, and repairs to its buildings alone will cost $225 million.
In research laboratories, the school lost some $17.6 million worth of equipment to heat and humidity, Dr. Raimer said. An additional $51 million worth of equipment was damaged in the complex’s clinics.
To make matters worse, the hospital moved 296 patients to other hospitals and estimated it would lose about $276 million in revenues as a result. The medical center employs more than 8,000 people on Galveston Island, he said.
Mr. Cernak said the port, which covers more than 800 acres, and employs 3,000 people, suffered significant damage. To restore the port to what it was before the storm will take at least a half-billion dollars, Mr. Cernak said. But he added that with temporary repairs the port could be operating at about three-quarters of capacity within a month. “That’s just operating on a Band-Aid,” he said.
Galveston officials are also requesting that the federal government release 600 acres on the city’s eastern side known as the East End Flats, which the Army Corps of Engineers uses to dump dredge material, Mr. LeBlanc said. The city wants to develop the property, which is by the seawall and levees, to expand its tax base. It was undamaged by Hurricane Ike.
“We’re simply asking for it back,” he said. “If this is the catalyst to help break that loose, so to speak, then so be it.”
* By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. (NYT; September 23, 2008)