By JUAN A. LOZANO
Associated Press Writer
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Mymi Freedman's memories of Hurricane Ike's immediate aftermath still linger, especially in one sense.
"The smell - everything was rotten," she said Sunday, sitting in her garage with her husband Sergio and reflecting on the year that has passed since Ike damaged thousands of homes, including her own, on the Texas island city of Galveston.
Residents like Mymi Freedman, 58, remembered Ike's destruction but also celebrated rebuilding efforts, saying the storm has brought people closer since it made landfall just outside Galveston in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2008.
Sergio Freedman, 62, said he is amazed at Galveston's progress, describing the city as a "war zone" right after the hurricane.
A year ago, entry into the city was hazardous; the only road onto the island was littered with boats tossed onto the pavement like toys by Ike's powerful storm surge.
Many neighborhoods were inundated with murky, muddy water sometimes contaminated by sewage and chemicals. Galveston's Seawall Boulevard was covered in rocks, splintered wood and other debris.
The hurricane damaged 75 percent of the working-class city's houses. Galveston suffered more than $3.2 billion in damage. The city's largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch, temporarily shut down and had to lay off about 3,000 employees.
Ike also destroyed or damaged thousands of other homes from the southeast Texas Gulf Coast into Houston, 50 miles inland. It also submerged farmland and ranches in saltwater, scoured away beaches and ruined thousands of acres of vegetation.
It was the costliest natural disaster in Texas history. Its powerful surge reached as high as 20 feet and its 110 mph winds caused more than $29 billion in damage. Ike was blamed for at least 72 deaths in the U.S., including 37 in Texas.
But on Sunday in Galveston, the scene was vastly different. The streets were filled with traffic, replenished beaches played host to tourists and residents, and many flooded homes - including the Freedmans' - had been repaired.
"You can see behind me ... a new day has dawned on our community," the Rev. David Green of First Presbyterian Church said in a sun-filled ballroom at the Hotel Galvez during a sunrise service. About 100 people gathered for the service near the beach.
The service was part of nearly a week of events highlighting rebuilding and recovery efforts.
Galveston officials say 75 percent of businesses are open and tourists have returned.
But residents say the city still has a long way to go. About 3,000 of the city's 58,000 residents have not returned. Mobile homes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency still dot driveways and front lawns.
Along the Freedmans' street, sheetrock and other debris are piled in front of homes still under repair.
"The community is still hurting," said Elizabeth Godbehere, 59, who was born on the island.
Galveston is not alone as other southeast Texas communities also recover from Ike.
In tiny Oak Island to the northeast in Chambers County, Trang Minh Ngo, 43, says it took him more than a decade to build up a life with a three-bedroom home and two fishing boats. Ike destroyed his home and one of his boats.
"The most difficult part is accepting everything I created is now gone and having to rebuild everything," he said in Vietnamese through a translator.
Community and religious organizations have helped Ngo and others who have limited resources, paying for utilities, home repairs, food and job training.
In Galveston, the Rev. Helen Appelberg of St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church urged residents during Sunday's sunrise service to hold onto hope.
"Let the hope ... grow into the flower of new life in every corner of this city," she said.