HOUSTON—Four years after Hurricane Ike, the third most destructive storm in United States history, Rheta Calandriello agrees she’s a deserving analogy for the City of Galveston’s rebirth and renewal.
“I lost everything,” said the 77-year-old Galveston resident who has called the city home for the last two decades.
We first met Calandriello three days after the hurricane made landfall in 2008. She was rummaging through the sparse remains of the Bayou Shores Trailer Park at Broadway and 61st Street. Her mobile home and two dozen more had been reduced to splinters, fragments, and scattered pieces of their owners’ former lives.
“Mother Nature does what she wants to do,” said Calandriello as she gathered what few pieces of her home she could find. She only recovered enough trinkets, cups, and shards of pottery to partially fill one small plastic storage container. That’s all the hurricane left her.
“I’m glad you revisited with me under better circumstances,” she told us on the fourth anniversary of the storm from her new apartment home on Galveston’s West End.
Calandriello works as a dining services employee at a Galveston resort hotel. Like the city around her, that now bears fewer and fewer scars from the devastating storm, she has pieced her life back together. She pointed us to a small table in her kitchen. That’s where she keeps a small shrine: all those shards and remnants she gathered from her demolished home. They include a green ceramic vase she recovered in three pieces. Like her life, she glued it back together.
“I’m a survivor so I knew I’d have to find a way to rebuild my life.”
With the restoration of shopping districts like the Galveston Strand, new additions like the Galveston Pleasure Pier that replaced the Ike-damaged Flagship Hotel, Galveston is reporting its best peak tourism season ever. Tourism officials report that this summer the city generated $8.3 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue compared to $7.5 million in tax revenue generated the summer before Hurricane Ike.
“I think it’s safe to say Galveston is back,” said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Park Board of Trustees and Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s remarkable how far the island has come.”
That’s what Galveston resident Rheta Calandriello feels about her life too.
“I must say looking around me four years later it’s hard to believe where we were four years ago,” she said. “But that’s what it’s all about, bouncing back.”
And bouncing back is a lesson she first learned 72 years ago when she was a 5-year-old growing up in Brighton, Great Britain. She survived a German bombing raid that killed her mother in World War II. Her father died in battle. Raised by her grandparents she learned early about the courage it takes to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward. That, she says, put a massive Texas hurricane in perspective.
“It did. It did. It was like this thing’s not gonna wipe me out. No it won’t,” she said. “We never know how many times we’ll have to reinvent ourselves,” she said of herself and of her adopted hometown. “And (we) just keep doing it.”