Sunday, September 14, 2008

'Crazy hardhead' stays behind in Surfside

SURFSIDE BEACH — "Ray Wilkinson doesn't consider himself a hero for being the only Surfside Beach resident to ride out Hurricane Ike in his home.

Rather, the 67-year-old Marine Corps veteran considers himself to be the only one "stupid enough" to stay behind.

"I'm just a crazy, old hardhead," said Wilkinson, while sitting on the front porch of his Fort Velasco Boulevard apartment today. "I didn't say I had all my marbles."

The 30-year Surfside Beach resident said he watched the frenzy of Ike's arrival from the front porch of his upstairs apartment, which faces away from the beach.

"I just saw all kinds of goodies floating away, like my refrigerator downstairs," he said. "I watched automobiles floating by," like a Volvo that traveled for several blocks before ending up in a ditch.

Across the community, more than 90 homes were seriously damaged or destroyed as the storm pushed through.

On one home's screened, second-story deck that faced the water, a half-dozen potted plants seemed to have hardly lost a leaf. Just two blocks away, homes were ripped off their wooden pilings and crushed together. Still others were washed out to sea. A few were nearly obliterated and left in ruins on the shore.

Streets and yards remained partially under water this morning, and were littered with debris, from toilets and bicycles to paintings and children's toys.

A handful of cars were also submerged, including two that residents had to abandon after waters got to high to drive them out.

A curfew was in place and residents will not be allowed back in until at least Sunday, and only then after checking in and out with police. The beach town is without water and electricity.

Wilkinson said he always evacuated in the past, a task that became cumbersome over the years.

"I ran from Beulah, and it was the biggest mistake I ever made," he said, referring to the infamous storm of the late 1960s. "I'm tired of running from these damn things. If it's going to get you, it's going to get you."

The disabled carpenter, who survived colon cancer 30 years ago, had planned to leave the island with his next-door neighbor Friday because he has no car.

But when his neighbor left and couldn't return, Wilkinson dug in his heels to stay.

Police officers made a last-minute visit, trying to change his mind after the island's electrical power had been shut off, but Wilkinson turned them away.

"They parked right out in the middle of the road and asked me if I was ready to go. I said, 'no,' " he said.

Wilkinson, who served in the military from 1968 to 1974 and still wears a Marine Corps ring on his bandanna around his neck, expects he'll live out his years in Surfside Beach. "I love it," he said."

Sorry. After the hideous performance of the N.O. PD during Katrina, there isn't a man alive that can convince me that the police should have the slightest say in deciding who goes home and who does not.

Checking ID's to determine if one lives there simply has to be allowed, though begrudgingly, because letting looters roam free is out of the question, but "checking in" with the police is just a polite stab at saying they have the authority to say yes or no, something we've seen time and again.

So old Ray sat the thing out and survived none the worse for the wear. Good for him. He reminds me of my pal Hubie. Or U-B, I still don't know which, cuz I can't understand 90% of what he says but he's as straight a shooter as there is. Hubie doesn't carry his Marine ring on a bandana, though. Its firmly attached to headgear thats a cross between a stetson and a beret.

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