saved lives during Ike
By Peter Davis
Published October 31, 2008
The first day was a shock when I got up to surf at first light and found waves already in my yard.

I threw my favorite three boards in my Beach Patrol truck and drove through the neighbor’s yards to get to the highway. It was blocked already by water, but I found another way out. The water wasn’t supposed to get very high until the afternoon.

Lt. Tony Pryor and I had split the crew the day before with most of our resources and people up in Santa Fe High School led by supervisor Penny Shull. A skeleton crew of five remained in Galveston and was to stay at the San Luis Hotel. This was comprised of Pryor, supervisors Loree Pryor and Sean Migues, senior guard Joe Cerdes and myself. My thinking was that if we got wiped out on the island, there would be resources who could get in quickly by road or water to help.

The rest is a blur. We started pulling people out of the north side of the island by about 9 a.m. or so. Most of these were wading assists. We would get them to high ground, and the police department would take them to Ball High School for emergency shelter. As the day went on, this relatively easy task got more and more difficult as the water and wind rose quickly, transformers blew, fires broke out and people got more and more panicky as they realized this could — and would — actually kill them if they stayed.

I don’t know how many people we rescued exactly, but we didn’t stop until about 9:30 p.m. or so, when the winds were up in the mid-80s. Tony and Loree had just made a phenomenal Jet Ski rescue over on 59th Street of an older gentleman who was already waist deep in his living room. I finally made the difficult call to get everyone off the streets.

Apparently, during the night, there were many, many desperate calls for help.

Early the next morning, we partnered up with Capt. Walter Braun and the rest of the police dive team. As soon as the wind dropped below hurricane force, we shared boats and members. We started in the neighborhoods finding people who had survived the storm. About noon, Penny and her team of senior guards, Justin Ridel, Chris Holmes, Matt Healy, Aaron Shaffner, Mark Butler, Travis Turnbull and supervisors Kara Harrison and John Beverlin, returned to the island.

As more and more people were able to get word to the police dispatch and the emergency operation center, the calls started piling up. The fresh team went to work — wading, on paddleboards and by boat. With little or no thought to the dubious water quality and the piles of debris floating all over, they swam, waded and climbed to get people to safety.

Later in the afternoon, the troops arrived. State and federal agencies started making it in with lots of resources. Texas First, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and a multitude of search-and-rescue teams went to work to relieve and supplement our tired crews.

All told, we rescued more than 300 people. By Sunday, we changed tactics. The police were swamped. During the next few days, we took over all welfare checks, trying to locate missing people. Our EMTs checked patients and tracked what happened. We searched buildings, took people to the hospital or evacuation site, passed out food, gave information fliers out, used our vans to shuttle people to get resources or elsewhere, and prevented people from being on the south side of the seawall until the area could be checked. We also supplemented the police department during the night shift with vehicles and officers until their support arrived from other agencies.

Like many of the other first responders, we are only now beginning the long process of looking to our personal needs, houses, families, etc. One thing I already know is that we have many lessons to learn from this. Some are logistic, but most are more ethereal and have to do with teamwork, trust, relationships and the remarkable resilience and heroism we are capable of when the demand is there.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity. Information on the Beach Patrol is at