Lee sees devastation, donates to cause
Astros slugger has special concern for ranchers, livestock
HOUSTON -- The helicopter trip Astros left fielder Carlos Lee took Tuesday morning was no joy ride.
"It's one thing to see it on the news, it's another thing to see it live," Lee said after tagging along with Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on an aerial assessment of Galveston Island, which was devastated by Hurricane Ike 10 days ago.
"The whole town is wiped out -- cars flipped over. You can see roads covered with sand. You can see how far the ocean came over. We saw cattle swimming out there trying to find something to eat or something to drink."
When Lee, a rancher with spreads southwest of Houston and in his native Panama, heard approximately 20,000 cattle were stranded in the area, he decided to pitch in with a $25,000 donation and more than 300 bales of hay. The funds will be used to help rescue and feed the livestock.
"As a cattleman, this can happen to anybody," Lee said. "That's why I'm here today, to make a donation and to help. I'm going to donate $25,000 to this cause. That can help us get started. If everybody does a little bit at a time, I think we can help. If this happens to you, you want to feel like there's help out there."
Staples, Lee and Lee's wife, Mary, also saw the damage to nearby Chambers and Jefferson counties, two other areas hit hard by Ike. The two men estimated they saw 2,000-3,000 stray cattle.
"Viewing the path of Ike up close paints a clear picture of the devastation," Staples said. "Not only have homes and businesses been lost, the impact on agriculture has been tremendous. In fact, the direct and indirect losses to the agricultural community will total into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The economic losses because of Hurricane Ike will total into several billion dollars."
Some operations may never resume production.
"We are the No. 1 cattle-producing state in the nation," Staples said. "But we have had the coastal counties devastated by the impact of Ike -- wiped out fences, wiped out corrals, wiped out barns. And, in fact, the personal loss to individual producers is tragic. Many will simply be out of business."
Staples said the impact encompasses the cattle industry, the coastal rice production regions in addition to the Texas timber industry.
The timber industry alone is estimated to take a $400 million hit, according to the Texas Forestry Service.
"Texans are truly stepping up to the plate to make a difference," Staples said. "I certainly appreciate Carlos Lee and his leadership, [Astros owner] Drayton McLane, the Houston Astros organization, the players and the employees for [their] leadership in responding to the devastation that Hurricane Ike wrought."
The loss of livestock, supplies and property are only part of the damage. The saltwater surge from the Gulf of Mexico inundated many pastures and crop lands, which could make those lands nonproductive for possibly two years.
"Ike ripped through our area and turned pastureland into swampland and fertile cropland into salty soil that will take time to repair," Lee said. "I want to help our agricultural producers get back on their feet, so I am asking all Texans to come together and help the people who put food on our tables."
The Astros and Major League Baseball have committed $1 million to Hurricane Ike relief. Five thousand round bales of hay have been donated, and ranchers and cowboys are coming together with state agencies to help with the roundup of the stray cattle.
"It shows everyone cares, and Carlos is passionate," McLane said. "He wanted to make a difference. This is what the Houston Astros are about, making a difference."
Said Lee: "I'm a baseball player, but I love to ranch. And what happens to other cattlepeople can happen to me. I want to help."
Staples said the road to recovery will be long and bumpy and take months or even years because of the extent of the damage.
A foundation set up to help fund the recovery efforts can be reached at 1-800-TELLTDA.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.