Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas, at 2:10am on Saturday, September 13, 2008. With sustained winds of 110mph, the Category 2 hurricane created a Category 5 equivalent storm surge 15 feet high, spanning hundreds of miles across the Gulf Coast. The storm flattened buildings, flooded cities, and caused the largest power failure in Texas history. Nearly 200 people died.
Stranded boats and debris littered the freeway. Electricity took several weeks to restore. Galveston was declared uninhabitable and 33,000 evacuees were temporarily banned from returning to their homes on the island. Disaster repair would cost nearly $30 billion.
None of these conditions stopped Weingarten from restoring our shopping centers.
Monday morning, just two days after the storm hit, Weingarten’s CEO Drew Alexander met with a team of leasing and property management associates to discuss our three shopping centers on the island: Galveston Place, Broadway Shopping Center, and (our former) Food King Place. They reached out to trusted contractors and representatives from Randalls (the anchor grocer for Galveston Place) and made a plan.
The representatives from Randalls joined Weingarten associates at our Houston office before departing together for the sixty mile journey.
They made it all the way to the Galveston Causeway, where traffic was backed up for miles. After sitting stagnant in the traffic for some time, Bill Strother grew frustrated, got out of the truck, and started walking. He estimates he walked two miles before he reached the barricade where a Galveston Lieutenant was stationed. The island was officially closed.
Undeterred, Bill approached the lieutenant to make his case. As a former police officer, Bill used his relationships with other government officials to negotiate access to the island, focusing on the potential to reopen one or more centers and provide much needed supplies to the area.
Bill arranged access not only for Weingarten and Randalls, but also for the unaffiliated Kroger just a few blocks away from Galveston Place. When asked about pulling strings for the competition, Bill explained simply, “Weingarten has always been a good corporate neighbor.”
The team spent the day surveying Galveston Place, which was still holding two to six inches of water inside. The food and merchandise on the bottom shelves of Randalls were ruined, as were all the pallets in the back room. The refrigeration gutters and electrical lines underneath the refrigeration equipment were flooded with saltwater. Outside, debris littered the lot, the entire perimeter of fencing was down, and a boat sat on the power transformer.
After negotiations with the government, Weingarten was able to bring in contractors the very next day to start repairing Galveston Place and our other two centers.
They first used front-end loaders to scrape the parking lots clear of debris and haul away the spoiled food and damaged goods from Randalls. They also pumped out the saltwater from the refrigeration gutters.
Travis Hofstra brought in generators mounted to flatbed semi-trucks, and Bill organized for the National Guard to join them on-site. Together, the team provided Galveston Place with lights and security around the clock.
It was a partnership that benefited more than just our property. According to John Ward, “the center became a hub of island restoration activity,” and everyone at Weingarten was very proud to provide a space suitable for the disaster-response efforts.
Those efforts, as it turns out, involved a family-owned business called Spec’s. The Houston-based liquor-store chain opened a location at Galveston Place just 19 days before Hurricane Ike hit, but they apparently never closed. Keeping spirits up with their spirits, Spec’s set up shop on the sidewalk. They took orders and payment at a table outside and sent “runners” into the store to meander through the darkened aisles. As John put it, “When there was no power, no refrigeration, and no lighting, Spec’s made the island bearable!”
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
As welcomed as high spirits were after the disaster, food and water were needed. As a grocer, Randalls couldn’t open without running water and restrooms, so Weingarten worked with our disaster restoration vendor to set up portable restrooms and handwashing stations in the parking lot.
Less than one week after gaining access to the island, Weingarten’s team and connections helped Randalls officially reopen for business.
With thousands of people still inhabiting the island at the time, Randalls became a beacon of hope, providing necessities citizens couldn’t get anywhere else. In addition to selling food and providing pharmacy services, Randalls also set up a food line outside. For several weeks, they gave away food to residents and restoration workers on the island.
It took 110 days to fully restore our Galveston shopping centers, but it also took just as many people. Weingarten depended upon our good relationships with Randalls, the National Guard, Galveston County, and dozens and dozens of contractors to recover after Hurricane Ike; but most of all we depended on each other.
With Steve Wise and Jeff Warwick on-site five days a week, and many Houston employees unable to travel to the office or connect to the Internet, Weingarten’s regional associates picked up the extra work. Associates in many offices did the leg work for the recovery—researching, hiring, and coordinating professional services for the repairs.
When asked about the recovery process, Jeff stressed again and again, “It needs to be clear this is a huge team effort and a huge team win.” Likewise, Bill insisted that Weingarten’s success was in our personal and professional relationships. “That’s what makes Weingarten strong,” he said.
Recovering Galveston Place wasn’t Weingarten’s only triumph after Hurricane Ike. Read The Legend of the Weingarten Insignia to find out how else we grew as a company and as a community.