Brenda Cannon Henley has written a delightful book, Winds Over Bolivar, cataloguing the individual and community struggles of those from the Bolivar Peninsula following Hurricane Ike. Ms. Henley asked me to write an introduction to her work:
For nearly 30 years, I have made my living helping people following catastrophic events in which their businesses and homes are damaged or destroyed. Some disasters are isolated incidents, and some involve entire communities. On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike devastated the Bolivar Peninsula, located near Galveston Island. Bolivar and its residents will never be the same, physically or emotionally.
It is difficult to describe to others the sense of helplessness, frustration, and despair people feel when their homes, jobs, and friends vanish overnight. The community is destroyed. In its place are bewildering and often overwhelming rules regarding emergency situations, insurance, and possible rebuilding. The people in Bolivar suffered as much as any community could from a natural catastrophe. Sadly, many will never return to their neighborhoods.
Media coverage of Hurricane Ike was quickly lost in the cacophony of the 2008 Presidential election. As a result, the media attention, so prevalent following Hurricane Katrina, was not nearly as evident following Hurricane Ike. Similarly, Hurricane Wilma, which hit a month and a half after Katrina, was also largely ignored by the national press, although both Hurricanes Wilma and Ike caused billions of dollars in damages.
Most people outside of Southeast Texas have no idea of the number of homes lost to Hurricane Ike. While the government was interested in purchasing property and effectively destroying what community was left, it was easy to sense that the vast majority of Bolivar Peninsula property owners didn’t want to sell their property to the government. Instead, they wanted to rebuild their homes, re-establish their comfortable neighborhoods, and simply return to the coastal lifestyle they lived before that fateful storm. But, for many Bolivar residents, rebuilding their homes became impossible. Many lost small fortunes; some their entire retirement savings.
As with Hurricane Katrina, there were significant legal fights over the amount of wind damage that occurred before the flood waters washed everything away. And, while I like to think of myself as affable, dealing with lawyers and lawsuits doesn’t provoke the fondest of thoughts for most following a catastrophe. As I often say, there is an old curse that wishes for your enemy to be among lawyers. While Texans are hardy and proud individuals, seeing one’s home destroyed and then dealing with an insurer that delays or refuses to pay a claim takes an emotional toll. Behind the smiles and determination of these hardy Texans, I always noted there was
tremendous sadness and anxiety.
The term “slabbed” or “slabber” was used originally along the Mississippi coast to define those who had their homes and businesses completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina leaving only broken concrete where the slab once provided the foundation. Bolivar was extensively slabbed.
There was one leader among the residents of the peninsula, Brenda Cannon Henley, who stood out as an organizer for those who had been slabbed. Following the denials of claims by insurance companies, Brenda helped organize the residents whose properties were merely broken slabs. In particular, she used her Bolivar BLUE Yahoo Internet Group site and passionate newspaper articles to encourage and enable discussions about the problems her Bolivar neighbors were encountering and to disseminate information.
Brenda was the worst type of nightmare for an insurance claims executive because she could write both accurately and eloquently about the issues she and her fellow slabbers faced. She wanted everyone to be aware of the way insurance executives were treating their customers after their devastating losses from Hurricane Ike. She honestly and correctly reported on the anger and frustration so many Bolivar residents and business owners felt over the claims situation they faced with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
Brenda’s considerable organizational talents and journalistic experience are part of the Bolivar Peninsula story following Hurricane Ike. This story is important because it is destined to happen again, and hopefully, others facing the same trials, can learn from Brenda’s experiences what to expect.