Seven days after Hurricane Ike struck Texas on September 13, I finally got my power turned back on. I live in Houston, a big city that didn't even take the brunt of the storm. But for a lot of the folks living in smaller communities along the Gulf Coast, the impact of Ike was much, much worse. I wanted to show MTV News what it was like for people living in Galveston, in Beaumont, in Orange or in Port Arthur, which is where I'm from. It's easy to bring the cameras one day after the storm, two days after the storm. But what about a week after the storm? Two weeks? Some people are just getting back home, just starting to deal with the reality of what's happened. And that's what I wanted to show everyone: what it's like when the cameras leave, and these people in these smaller communities are left to deal with the devastation.
Our first day was in Beaumont. It's part of the Golden Triangle — Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. It's pretty much one place; when people in Orange get affected, people in Beaumont and Port Arthur feel it. A lot of the people in those towns work in the refineries, which is one of the main industries in the Golden Triangle. This whole area, the people there, they were some of 's first supporters. These are the first places we did shows, first places we sold music. So it was really important for me to come down here and make sure people were OK. It's not about if I know them personally — I know their struggle. We all went through the same thing. If you come from this area, everybody has pretty much lived the same way of life.
When we visited Beaumont, it was 10 days out from when the storm hit, and people were just getting back home. We went to the Beaumont Athletic Complex where the buses full of evacuees were dropping people back from all over Texas — San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and smaller places like Tyler, Sunrise, even northern Louisiana. They had to get their stuff off that main bus and then hop on a smaller bus that would take them to their neighborhood. For some people, this was the second time in a month they had to evacuate — Hurricane Gustav was expected to hit these cities too. Most of the people we met were still somewhat in a state of shock from it all. They didn't really know the extent of the damage to their homes. They hadn't seen their houses, didn't know about their cars or whether their place of employment was still standing. Can you imagine if your job wasn't there when you got back? You don't have money to start over, and you don't have a job to go back to so you can make money to start over. It can really throw you off, to say the least.
Some of the people we saw were understandably frustrated. They had been displaced for 10-14 days, and the uncertainty of it all was probably too much for anyone to handle, let alone if you're someone with children or trying to take care of your family. I don't want to discredit anyone — FEMA and a lot of the city and state agencies did a decent job getting people organized and getting people on buses out of town. A lot of lives were most likely saved. But I'm not exactly sure how far their plans extended once they did get them out of town. Maybe they were thinking they'd have evacuees for three, four days at most. I don't think they were thinking of having people for one to two weeks.
We visited Galveston the next day, the first day they were letting residents back into town. What we saw will never leave me. Galveston is a big beach town. If you were in Houston with an afternoon to kill, and the weather was nice outside, you'd drive down to Galveston. It's like a Santa Monica or a Coney Island. But coming back into Galveston that day, it was something else. There weren't any boats, and there weren't any tourists. Where there were once buildings and shopping centers and people's homes, now there was just a pile of debris. You could tell no one really knew what to make of it all.
In each city we went to, it was clear that people were coming together to take care of each other. These are the people who have the least amount to work with in the beginning, the least amount of resources with which to rebuild. If they're feeling that the city, state or FEMA aren't taking care of them during the evacuation, they definitely come together and help each other out. It's a community base in these small towns. People are very close, and you're only separated from each other by one or two people, it seems like. People are used to having to pool resources to make something happen, so when something like this hurricane hits, all they can do is rely on each other.
I hope that people understand that these issues that these people are dealing with, it lasts much longer than the news cycle. When you're sitting in your house three months later and thinking, "I wonder what happened to the people from the hurricane?" they're probably still hurting and they probably still need your help. If there's anything I can say, it's just don't forget about these people.