The coast doesn't have the whitest sand or the clearest water, but to millions of Houstonians and other Texans, this is the beach. And thanks to Hurricane Ike, it's also a mess.
The remains of houses, rotting cattle carcasses and other debris are scattered along Galveston Island. In some spots, all the sand was sucked back out to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving only rocks.
Galveston-area officials are scrambling to clean up the sand, which draws throngs of out-of-towners who spend millions on food, rental housing and shopping. They say they're relieved that the most popular beach spot along the seawall is largely intact, but they've asked Congress for $100 million to help them bring the beach back to life.
“Without beach restoration and erosion protection, our economy will suffer greatly,” Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said.
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Galveston is not exactly Aruba. It sports brownish-gray sand, and the murky Gulf waters are tepid by midsummer. Jellyfish, seaweed and sand fleas normally pepper the beach.
But it is the closest beach to Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, and it is a prized retreat for often sweltering southeast Texas.
Beaches on the eastern end of Galveston remain heavily littered by debris, including water heaters, tires, sofas and the occasional rotting cattle corpse.
While most parts of the beaches along the seawall are mainly clear of trash, debris submerged in the shallow surf in some areas could be dangerous to swimmers. Close to a month after Ike hit, a no-swimming ordinance remains in effect on the island.
Along the far western end of the island, where pricey vacation homes once stood, the beaches suffered “quite a bit of sand loss,” said Peter Davis of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The hurricane's destructive 12-foot storm surge erased large swaths of beach on the west end.