'It was like we had been bombed'

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Sept. 10, 2017 at 9:54 p.m.
Updated Sept. 11, 2017 at 3:22 a.m.

Bill Gibbens, 52, picks up a tub of items that he salvaged from his vacation home in Rockport.

Bill Gibbens, 52, picks up a tub of items that he salvaged from his vacation home in Rockport.   Olivia Vanni for The Victoria Advocate

ROCKPORT - El and Bill Gibbens didn't expect Hurricane Harvey would obliterate their three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacation home on Holiday Island in Rockport.

"It was like we had been bombed," said El Gibbens, 51. "If you could imagine, all the debris that is pilled up on the roads was everywhere."

The couple had gone to Nashville, Tenn., for a wedding and didn't have much time to ready their Rockport and Victoria homes for the storm. They made it back to their Rockport home four days after the hurricane and were shocked at the ruins.

"We would have never imagined a total disaster," said Bill Gibbens, 52.

The couple are two of many Crossroads residents who have second homes in Rockport, a popular weekend getaway spot.

The couple stopped by their vacation home a final time Sunday afternoon to salvage whatever they could before the house was demolished.

The house was more than the couple's vacation home; it was a family gathering place, El Gibbens said. The family visited Rockport almost every weekend this summer with usually between 12 and 15 family members staying.

"Imagine that everything that you had collected and worked on for eight years is just destroyed," she said. "My sister, her kids and their kids - they've done tons of work with us. ... We own it, but they treat it like it's theirs."

The storm took the entire third floor of the house and flooded the downstairs more than 6 feet, and the wind destroyed everything on the second floor.

The couple and their family had remodeled the entire home during the past eight years. They plan to rebuild a new home on the same spot and have the insurance process moving. They were covered for the hurricane with traditional, flood and windstorm insurance policies.

Bill Gibbens pointed out how two houses down the street had minimal damage because they were built last year. Older homes like the Gibbenses', built in 1979, sustained a lot of damage or were completely destroyed, he said.

"The only damage to those homes was if there was flying debris," he said. "It's amazing to me how the newly constructed homes did really quite well compared to older homes."

Both of the Victoria residents have close ties to the coastal area because Bill Gibbens grew up in Portland and his wife grew up in Ingleside. Bill Gibbens said it broke his heart when he drove through Rockport last week for the first time since the storm.

"A lot of (business owners), I don't know what they're going to do to make a living over the next few months," he said. "And how quickly can we get tourism back? Because there is no tourism now. There's no places or services for them to go to."

Although the area was torn apart, Bill Gibbens said he was inspired by the hundreds of locals, Texans and out-of-state volunteers helping each other.

"The community pulling together, it's really been amazing," he said.

The couple's home in Victoria sustained minimal damage, and they own a business, Global Recruiters of Victoria, that was closed for a week following Harvey.

Victoria attorney Kevin Cullen, 62, has owned a second home for 23 years in Key Allegro in Rockport. His home wasn't a complete loss, but the storm blew in one of the windows, lifted part of the porch and blew out half the back wall of the living room.

Cullen said several of the people he knows lost their homes. During the four times he visited, he saw hundreds of volunteers and American Electric Power employees working hard.

Power was restored Friday to much of Rockport.

"For the power to be restored this quick is close to a miracle," he said. "AEP is to be commended. They thought it would be a month."

Cullen grew up in Victoria and has visited Rockport regularly since he was 10 years old. Seeing the town come together has been inspiring, he said.

"We were cleaning up the house the second day after the hurricane, and two young girls came by with baggies with sandwiches, drinks, fruit cups and power bars and distributed them out to anyone who was working," Cullen said.

Victoria dentist Buddy Lee also owns a condominium in Rockport. He has regularly visited the area since 1977 when he built a house that he sold in 1993. Water came into through the roof of his condo, soaking most of his belongings.

Lee said he was proud those in the area and in Texas came together to support each other.

"That's a real spiritual thing," he said. "Events like this bring out the best of us. For the most part, I think everyone really rose to the occasion and came together. It's remarkable how we band together as a people and try to help one another."

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

Additional coverage

Transplanted Texans fear Irma's worst

Damage to Victoria County buildings in the millions

SBA approves over $51 million in disaster loans

Small businesses should re-evaluate business plan before reopening

Harvey improves fishery in Matagorda Bay

Tips for donating to charities following Hurricane Harvey

Texas Home Health raising money to help employees

Neighbors helping neighbors


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