Libraries Regroup, Reach Out in Wake of Hurricane Ike

Libraries Regroup, Reach Out in Wake of Hurricane Ike

Days before hurricane season descended with a vengeance on the Caribbean and the United States, Jefferson Parish (La.) Library dedicated its all-new Belle Terre branch August 29. The event took place three years to the day that Hurricane Katrina ripped the original building apart after making its deadly landfall throughout the Gulf Coast. “We had enormous support from around the country,” Director Lon Dickerson said in the September 18 New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Such support is needed again following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ike September 12–13, just two weeks after New Orleans evacuated in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav. Ike’s Category 2 force slammed across the Louisiana and southeast Texas coasts, having lost some strength since pummeling the Caribbean nations of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Haiti, and Cuba as a Category 4 storm several days earlier. Ike left 140 people dead and caused billions of dollars in wind and water damage, and lengthy power outages that optimized the growth of mold in humid homes, businesses, and libraries.

As with Gustav, most Louisiana libraries dodged major disaster; except for brief power outages, they could concentrate on helping South Texas evacuees and local residents with FEMA applications. However, the University of New Orleans’ Earl K. Long Library suffered damage that will require asbestos abatement, the Associated Press reported September 22. To the north, Cameron Parish lost the temporary facility that had been serving the community until a permanent library could be built to replace the one Hurricane Katrina destroyed, Director Charlotte Trosclair informed the Louisiana Library Status Blog. Ironically, the nearby Duxbury Free Library had just spent the summer fundraising for a new Cameron library through its “From Bay to Bayou” summer reading program.

Unsurprisingly, one of the hardest-hit libraries in Texas was Galveston’s Rosenberg Library and Museum, the public library for the community where Ike made landfall early on the morning of September 13 after having delivered Category 4–force winds for much of the preceding day. With large sections of the city in ruins and a communication grid slowly being rebuilt, the library community first learned of the Rosenberg Library’s severe damage from the September 18 Galveston County Daily News, which reported Director John Augelli’s having measured muddy water peaking at 75 inches on the first floor of the facility. That same day, Houston CBS-TV affiliate KHOU aired footage of volunteers helping with the cleanup; reporter Lee McGuire described them as having “just arrived are from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where a flood took out the town. Now it’s our turn.”

In a September 22 interview with Library Journal, Augelli said that he and several staff members were working out of his home, which is located on higher ground on Galveston Island. Noting that most of the water had been pumped out, he added that, “except for a couple of things, everything on that first floor is going into a giant pile in the parking lot” and that drying heat was being pumped into the soaked bottom floor even as crews were striving to dehumidify the upper two stories “so we don’t have damage to historical documents and the museum.”

Galveston County’s La Marque High School library suffered severe damage, according to the Daily News. Although Texas A&M University in Galveston suffered little damage, library head Natalie Wiest wrote September 19 on the Society of Southwest Archivists’ Ike update website that classes would be held at the College Station campus until power was restored. In the meantime, “we have concern for mold,” she noted.

“Most [Texas libraries] outside of Galveston escaped with minimal damage,” wrote Rice University Library Director Sara Lowman September 22. Elizabeth Swan, coordinator of the Houston Area Library System, became the point person for gathering such reports about affected libraries and posted them September 22 to the Texas Library Association website. Among the postings there (pdf file), as well as to the Ike wiki of the Society of Southwest Archivists and newspaper stories, are the following reports.

  • Although most of the University of Houston campus emerged unscathed, the Architecture Building lost half its roof—“unfortunately the half over the library,” Dana Rooks reported September 17 to Swan. “The Architecture Rare Books Room collection was packed in acid-free boxes and moved to Special Collections [while] undamaged parts of the general collection were relocated to stacks in the main library.” Water-laden materials were being set aside for freeze-drying or further evaluation, despite the library’s being short-staffed until those who had evacuated the metropolitan area returned home.
  • Bridge City Public Library Director Mary Montgomery wrote September 17 that her facility “was completely under about 3–4 feet of water with the storm surge.”
  • Brazoria County Public Library’s Pearland branch could be closed for months, reference librarian Sylvia Drake said in the September 17 Journal of Pearland, due to water damage to books and sheet rock that fell through several parts of the ceiling.
  • Fort Bend County Library System’s First Colony Branch remains closed until further notice after losing part of its roof, according to staff member Ann Crockett.
  • The San Marcos Daily Record reported September 18 that most of the books in the Anahuac High School Library of the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District were soaked after high winds blew out the library windows. Additionally, many district staff and students lost their homes in the storm.
  • Texas State Library’s Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty “received moderate damage,” Texas State Librarian Peggy Rudd told American Libraries, and officials were working to “stave off an outbreak of mold and mildew” while during the power outage by having a generator and cooling unit installed.
  • Harris County Public Library’s Evelyn Meador branch in the Houston suburb of Seabrook is closed indefinitely due to “roof leaks and water that came under the doors and totally soaked the carpet,” Director Rhoda Goldberg reported.

Although Hurricane Ike diminished to tropical-storm force by the time it left Texas, the weather system cut a swath of destruction through the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. In northwest Indiana, Lake County Public Library’s Hobart branch was closed indefinitely after as much as four feet of water inundated the building’s recently remodeled lower level September 14 and wiping out an adult education learning center housed there.

In much of Ohio, downed trees from high winds severed power to hundreds of communities, but Ike seems to have spared library facilities, Marsha McDevitt-Stredney of the State Library of Ohio told American Libraries. Librarians recounted how the number of visitors mushroomed: They came to use internet workstations and recharge their laptops and cell phones, as well as to borrow materials at circulation-boosting rates. “We saw many people we had never seen before and we were so happy to be of service,” reported Eileen Horvath, manager of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Wyoming branch. Jenny Gomien, who manages the system’s Clifton branch, likened the crowd scene in the children’s area of her library to “an airport waiting room.”

Texas libraries that were able to reopen as soon as Ike had left their area found themselves flooded with people seeking everything from FEMA application assistance to disaster respite through a good read in an air-conditioned building. Bill Stein of the Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus, some 70 miles west of Houston, reported that “we were virtually the only thing in town that was open” as Hurricane Ike approached—attracting many Gulf Coast evacuees the following week. When Houston Public Library’s Central Library reopened September 16, the computer lab was staffed with reference librarians and the entrance boasted a new sign: “Hurricane Ike Assistance Center.”

The Nacogdoches Public Library offered service to evacuees that may well exceed what any library has done to date: It closed its doors to the public for more than a week in order to house some 250 displaced persons inside the building, which Director Anne Barker told American Libraries is shared with the city’s recreation department. “The evacuees were actually sleeping in the gym, and our meeting room was their dining room,” she said, explaining that “it was the decision of the Red Cross that we not allow the evacuees to come into the library, although I pleaded to bring them in a number of times.” Instead, NPL staff “worked lots of overtime at 12-hour shifts including all-nighters at various functions” such as registering evacuees, assisting people with disabilities, and holding a Fun Day program on the lawn. The library reopened September 22, the day after the last family of evacuees moved out.

The disaster relief funds managed by the Texas Library Association and the Society of American Archivists are accepting donations to assist libraries and repositories with Ike recovery.

Posted on September 26, 2008. Discuss.