GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Like many communities along the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast, Galveston suffered the wrath of Hurricane Ike when it came ashore in 2008 and became the state's costliest natural disaster.
A storm surge as high as 20 feet and winds of up to 110 mph damaged 80 percent of the island city's homes, flooded its historic downtown district and washed away many sections of its beaches, which are an important part of Galveston's tourism-based economy.
Five years after Ike, tourism to the island and economic development are at levels higher than before the storm as beaches have been replenished and homes, businesses and other structures have been repaired.
While construction projects still dot the landscape and the city's population is down nearly 11,000 residents, Galveston leaders and residents said Thursday they believe their city has rebounded well from Ike's devastation. Other residents and officials across Southeast Texas echoed those sentiments, saying while rebuilding continues, their communities are in pretty good shape.
"I think Galveston was wonderful before Ike but I think everyone is pulling together to make it a better place," Mayor Lewis Rosen said.
Ike made landfall near Galveston — about 50 miles southeast of Houston — in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2008. The storm ended up causing more than $29 billion in damage and was responsible for more than 100 deaths, including 12 in Galveston and Chambers counties in Texas. Power outages temporarily crippled Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city.
Galveston officials attribute the city's recovery in part to repairing hotels, restaurants and other tourism infrastructure and investing more than $125 million in new attractions. The island city in 2012 had its best tourism season on record, with 5.7 million visitors. One in every three jobs on the island is tied to tourism.
"Tourism is one of the biggest reasons Galveston has recovered so quickly," said Meg Winchester, director of Galveston's convention and visitors bureau.
On Bolivar Peninsula, a narrow strip of land just northeast of Galveston, some 3,600 homes and other structures were washed away to the mainland or were severely damaged.
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