Hurricane Ike 911 Call Haunts Dispatcher

By: Kevin Reece, KHOU Email
By: Kevin Reece, KHOU Email

More than a year after Hurricane Ike, Tricia McCulloch is still haunted by a four-minute 911 call she received at Galveston’s temporary emergency operations center, located on the 2nd floor of the San Luis Hotel.

It was 2 a.m. September 13, and the police department bookkeeper was taking her turn answering the flood of phone calls from worried residents. Police Officer Gordon Morse was in the operations center with his home-video camera when McCulloch received the chilling call.

“You’re OK. You’re OK,” she can be heard telling the woman on the other end of the line.

“Whatever you do, don’t go outside,” she said responding to the woman’s plea for help, and her admission that her husband was demanding they escape the rising water by climbing on the roof of their Crystal Beach home.

“She was screaming from the minute I picked that phone up,” said McCulloch. “She says, ‘I need somebody to come and get me.’ That’s the first words I heard when I got on that phone.”

As she watched the video, McCulloch said she could recall what she felt.

“I can just feel that I was so frustrated that I couldn’t get her and fix her,” McCulloch said.

Information about the caller is limited. Galveston’s Emergency Operations Center had been moved from the police department to the San Luis Hotel and the operators answering phones did not have the ability to triangulate phone call locations or have the ability to record the caller’s voice.

Authorities said they tried to keep a written log for each phone call, but McCulloch spent the majority of the four minutes trying to calm the woman down and keep her from going outside at the height of the storm. By the time of the 2 a.m. call, rescues on Bolivar were impossible, and the flood surge reached 20 feet.

Watching the videotape for the first time Wednesday did help jog McCulloch’s memory. She said she knows the woman called her husband “Doug.” She said the woman was calling from Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, she spoke with a heavy Texas accent, and that she had just seen her neighbor’s home completely washed away. But the phone line went dead before McCulloch could get any additional information.

“Tears just flowed,” McCulloch said after the line went dead. “Because you couldn’t do nothing to help them. For me to not know if she lived or not it’s a nightmare. I don’t know where she’s at. I need to know. I need to know something.”

McCulloch said she hopes the caller is alive, and will read this story, and will call again. She admits it is a call that still haunts her a full year later and wants to put her nightmares to rest.

“I don’t think I’d need to say anything,” she said of the reunion she hopes will happen. “I could just hug her and know she’s OK.”

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