As you drive past the three police checkpoints to the tiny Texas island of Gilchrist, population 700, the odor is nauseating. Dead cows litter the highway.
But the true shock to the senses is the complete devastation on the island. A 14-foot wall of water devoured homes, churches, businesses and people's dreams.
There is one exception. An impressive yellow house sitting high atop 19-foot pilings is still standing. In fact it is the last house standing on the Gulf Front.
I took a trip past the security checkpoints with Mike Riley who built the house two years ago for $190,000. Riley says he is "proud it survived."
He says the reason it is standing is because, "We bolted ... strapping it ... doing what the engineers spelled out."
In the end, the builder had a fight with the homeowner, Warren Adams, over finishing the project. Owen says the house survived because he built it on the highest ground with the highest elevation.
Still, the house has new construction, taking advantage of the lessons learned after Hurricane Rita struck the area three years ago.
The pitch of the roof and the hurricane windows can withstand winds up to 130 miles per hour. Ike's winds were 110.
The older homes are in ruins and we talked to one devastated neighbor, Debbi Zambardino, who was loading her belongings on a boat.
"I have been coming down here all my life but I don't want to do this anymore," she said.
It may be months before power is restored. There are many homeowners who feel the damage is so staggering that the community will never survive.
The narrow strip of land is vulnerable. But the last house standing is at least one example that with the proper building materials and the right engineering plan, man can sometimes stand up to the fury of mother of mother nature.