LEAGUE CITY, Texas – Hurricane Ike roared ashore in Galveston shortly after 2 a.m., on Sept. 13, 2008, pushing a 22-foot storm surge that flooded 80 percent of the buildings in the city.
Stephanie Matlock, then a 23-year-old single mother, was a nurse working at Shriner’s Hospital for Children. She’d evacuated ahead of the storm with her 3-year-old son. She returned to find she’d lost everything.
“When I drove up, I just saw all of my belongings on the street,” she said.
The experience changed her life.
“I learned that I'm really resilient and that it's OK to not have it together and to need help," she said. “I also learned that 'stuff' doesn't matter. Really, it’s replaceable. It's my family is what matters." She jokingly added, “I probably should put more tequila in my hurricane survival box for next time.”
With the help of friends and strangers, Matlock, and thousands of her neighbors rebuilt their homes, businesses and lives.
Hurricane Ike caused $27 billion in damage. The City of Galveston is still rushing to finish infrastructure projects connected to the storm before federal money runs out next year.
A bitter political fight over replacing 569 public housing units destroyed by Ike has stalled reconstruction. So far, only about a quarter of the units have been rebuilt.
The city’s population of about about 48,000 is almost 13 percent less than before the storm
Matlock has moved on. She remarried, had another son and decided to move with her family to the mainland. “We didn't buy on the island 'cause I didn't want to do Ike. I didn't want to rebuild my house,” she said.
Then last year, deja vu hit. Hurricane Harvey sent a foot of water into her house in League City. It took about six months for Matlock and her husband to make repairs. The two experiences have made her hyperalert during hurricane season, she says.
“When all these things are in the tropics, on one computer screen, I have my patient information, and on the other I have my storm tracker,” she said.
Watching Hurricane Florence raking the East Coast stirs up the old anxieties: another hurricane season, another roll of the dice.
But Matlock said she learned from Ike that heart and family make a home, not the house.
"It’s wood and it’s sheetrock and it’s walls, and it doesn’t matter,” she said.