orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

September 14, 2013

Orange County communities show growth since Ike

Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader

BRIDGE CITY — Five years after Hurricane Ike, the remnants of its devastating storm surge and catastrophic damage have healed but the scars remain.

The City of Bridge City was nearly wiped from the map on Sept. 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike unleashed its fury on the Texas Gulf Coast with more than 100 mph winds and a storm surge estimated between 15 to 20 feet in some locations. Bridge City was one of the hardest hit communities as 99 percent of the city’s 3,300 homes and nearly all of its businesses sustained water damage.

“The city is looking real good right now,” said Mayor Kirk Roccaforte. “I would never have dreamed we would be as far along in five years as we are. I think it’s just amazing. The citizens, the city employees and administration and other entities from around Orange County and outside the county have helped us get Bridge City back on track in that time and I can’t say thank you enough.”

Since the storm, Bridge City has accomplished many of its objectives in a relatively short amount of time.

Thanks for federal funding, Bridge City has completed repairs or rebuilt miles and miles of its city streets, has dealt with drainage issues, water and sewer system projects and continues to address more of those issues in 2013.

“We are still using federal funding from the final round of the Ike recovery project to finish some of the work we have left to do,” Roccaforte added. “We still have some roads left to repair and our waste water system, but I think we will probably be done with all that in about another year. We are 98 percent done and looking good.”

The Bridge City Independent School District sustained damage to all of its campuses in some form, some more than others. The damage was so bad at its two elementary schools that a new state of the art elementary school which opened in August 2011.

Enrollment has increased every year since the storm and has surpassed pre-Hurricane Ike figures as more than 2,700 students currently attend class at the district’s four campuses. This is a 17 percent increase when compared to figures before Ike.

“Our population is a little more than it was prior to the storm, which is good,” Roccaforte added. “We still have homes for sale and a few that need to be addressed from the storm, but things are going great and we hope to make through the rest of this hurricane season with no issues.”

Even though Roccaforte knows the work is not completed yet, he feels a sense of pride knowing how much has been accomplished.

“I get comments from political figures and elected figures all of the time on how well Bridge City has done since the storm,” he said. “It’s truly an honor to be the mayor of this city and to represent this community.”



ORANGE

The City of Orange experienced wide-spread damage from Hurricane Ike’s monstrous storm surge as well on Sept. 13, 2008. Residents in the Cove and along the east side of Orange, which were unable to evacuate, waited anxiously to be rescued by emergency personnel.

Businesses and key components of the city, such as the Port of Orange, also sustained heavy damage which took weeks, and in some cases, months to recover. Five years later, things are definitely look brighter in Orange.

“It is hard to imagine we are where we are today after the devastation that came from Hurricane Ike,” said Mayor Jimmy Sims. “The city is in as good of shape now as it ever has been. I’ve got to give credit to Mayor Brown Claybar and the city council during that time for reacting so quickly, which allowed us to bounce back to where we are today.”

The City of Orange resumed its downtown revitalization project which is all but complete now and features several new features which will only add to the quality of life for Orange-area residents, including the beautiful Orange Boardwalk and Riverfront Pavilion which stretches from Front Street across from Lamar State College-Orange all the way to Sixth Street by the Orange County Courthouse Annex Building along the Sabine River.

A senior citizen center and the Orange County Action Association (Meals on Wheels) have also become an integral part of downtown.

“We want downtown Orange to continue to grow and have events and functions that will bring people to town, hopefully on a monthly basis,” Sims added. “It really is such a nice place to go and relax. And we are not done yet. We want to continue to improve and grow and make the City of Orange a place people want to come to and see what we have to offer.”

Population figures currently have a total of 18,543 residents in the city of Orange, according to Sims. It represents a small increase following a decline from the hurricane.

“There were a lot of people that did not come back after the storm,” Sims explained. “But we have been seeing a small increase lately, and the (West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent) school district has shown an increase in enrollment this school year for the first time in years. That’s a good indicator of growth.”



West Orange

The City of West Orange was hard hit by Hurricane Ike’s storm surge as well. Images of residents trapped in their houses and manufactured homes while waiting to rescued by first-responders in boats still haunts the memory of many citizens and city officials.

Five years later, the city is back on track and recovering quite well. Although, if you look closely in some areas, the impact of Hurricane Ike can still be seen.

“Our recovery is going well, but it is still a work in progress,” said Mayor Roy McDonald. “We still have at least 20 homes which were damaged by Ike’s storm surge that we need to demolish. Once we have the grant, we will take care of those safety hazards.”

McDonald said recovery in his city has been slow, but steady. Some aspects have improved while other areas have not moved as quickly as he had hoped or wanted.

“We are ready to start working on a couple of projects, like addressing our drainage problems,” he explained. “There several culverts we need to replace with larger ones which will improve the flow of water in drainage situations. We have already done some street repairs and will start another street repair project shortly.”

The biggest impact to West Orange was the loss of businesses and decline in population following the storm.

“We lost quite a bit of our population,” McDonald stated. “Especially many of our elderly residents. Instead of choosing to rebuild, a lot of them moved off to be closer to their families. Our population has not recovered as quickly as I would like it too.

“We have had some new businesses move to West Orange since the storm, especially recently, and that is a good sign because we lost several after the storm,” he added.



Rose City

This small community, located on the north and south sides of Interstate 10 and along Old Highway 90, was devastated by Hurricane Ike’s storm surge up the Neches River and adjacent bayous.

The majority of houses in Rose City sustained some form of water damage and the City Hall building itself had more than four feet of water inside. However, five years later, a lot has changed in Rose City and for the better.

“The city is in as good or better shape now than it was before Hurricane Ike happened,” said Mayor David Bush. We are still in the middle of some big Ike-related projects. We are doing a street project and a water project right now, and we have another street project to do in the future, so Rose City is in good shape.”

Along with current Hurricane Ike projects and the newly built City Hall, which opened in 2012, Rose City is experiencing a resurgence.

“We are having new people move into Rose City each month for the past several months,” Bush added. “The population is not back to what it was before Hurricane Ike, but, within the next year, I expect it will surpass the pre-Hurricane Ike mark.”

Along with more people, Bush said businesses have taken an interest in Rose City as well. One of the biggest catches for this community was the opening of the new Greyhound Bus terminal at the Gateway Travel Plaza off Interstate 10 East, which has helped send sales tax revenue soaring in Rose City.

“We have had several new businesses move into Rose City,” Bush continued. “Our sales tax is up a lot compared to the past two years, and that’s a good indicator that our businesses are doing well. Things have turned around for Rose City big time in this last year, and everything is looking good.”