Another hurricane season is the last thing Galveston wants to think about after last year's devastation from Hurricane Ike.
"Hurricane season got here a lot quicker than I thought it would. I'm still busy working on my own house, trying to get back in there," said Steve LeBlanc, manager of the island city 50 miles southeast of Houston. "But we are busy getting prepared for another season."
As the 2009 hurricane season began this week, many of Galveston's residents were still mired in repairs nearly nine months after the costliest disaster in Texas history came ashore with 110-mph winds and 12-foot storm surge on Sept. 13.
During Galveston's annual hurricane preparedness meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and other officials warned the approximately 12,000 island residents who ignored an evacuation order for Ike: This time, leave when we ask you to.
The popular tourist beach city is recovering and rebuilding. Stacks of new lumber and plywood are piled on front yards of gutted homes being rebuilt by construction workers who have been a common sight in island neighborhoods for months now.
The recent Memorial Day weekend saw 250,000 visitors to the island, on par with previous years.
In The Strand, Galveston's historic Victorian district, which was inundated with mud, sewage and damaging flood waters, about 75 percent of businesses have reopened.
On Galveston's famed Seawall, construction has begun to rebuild Murdoch's, a nearly century-old iconic gift shop that was washed away by Ike.
All but three hotels on the island have reopened. Hotel occupancy tax receipts are down 20 percent so far this year, but tourism officials attribute that as much to the recession as to post-hurricane problems.
"We are encouraged to see that tourists are coming back and they haven't forgotten about Galveston," said RoShelle Gaskins, a spokeswoman for the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.
On a recent weeknight, Galveston's popular seawall beaches, which were partially washed away by Ike but have since been replenished with 500,000 cubic yards of sand, were filled with tourists and locals.
"It's better than I thought it would be," Vaughn said. "We had heard there was still devastation."
Thomas said she has been encouraged by the pace of Galveston's recovery. But she noted that the city, whose pre-Ike population of 58,000 was just 45,000 now, still has a long way to go.
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the city's and county's biggest employer, which laid off 3,000 workers shortly after the storm, is still limping along after suffering more than $1 billion in damage from Ike.
While many homes are being rebuilt, some remain in disrepair while others have been cleaned out but now sit as empty shells. Ike's storm surge and winds damaged 75 percent of Galveston's homes.
Patricia Cooper's two-bedroom home sits as one of these empty shells.
Other homes in Cooper's neighborhood were also unoccupied. Some had "For Sale" or "For Lease" signs on their front yards.
"I might have to sell it if I don't get help. I can't go on like this," said Cooper, 52. "I'm taking it one day at a time."
Bad luck has hampered some of the rebuilding efforts. On Wednesday, an accidental fire destroyed at least 60 units of an Ike-damaged waterfront resort on Galveston's seawall. Repairs were about a month away from being completed.
Herbert Turner is hoping he can move back into his Ike-damaged two-bedroom condo in about three weeks.
But moving back into his home won't completely allay his fears that Galveston seems more vulnerable this hurricane season.
Yet he still remains positive about the future.
"I do know Gulf Coast people are resilient people," he said. "People who live here have a passion for this place and will do what they can to bring it back."
Source: AP Features