Saturday, January 16, 2010

A second glance in Mississippi

While in Mississippi we stayed at Shepard State Park in Gautier. As a side note... please excuse the font sizes and changes. I have been trying new things and it is not working so well. Anyway... back to Mississippi....

We were not right on the gulf coast beach but the park is a stones throw from the Gulf of Mexico and it was very affordable even though a tad... rustic. Truly it was on the edge of needing quite a bit of work... but I am sure that will come one day when the great state of Mississippi finds it has idle time on it’s hands... it's been very busy.

As one of our excursions we traveled the 20 minutes or so to Biloxi. Biloxi is an old city that’s edge sits along a strip of land right on the gulf shore. On our first trip into Biloxi we noted the handful of casinos on the beach strip and did not really see much else.

We were disappointed as there did not seem to be a historic district in what appeared to be the down town area. In fact... there was not much along the beach strip other than a few casinos, some newer houses, a new museum that is being built, and a lot of construction. As I said we were hoping for a quaint little old town area to visit but were disappointed.

Back at the camp we ran into another snowbird couple from Michigan. (Trolls) They said they have been coming down to the area we just passed through for years... and they went on and on about the destruction of the bigger hurricanes that passed through both the Alabama and Mississippi gulf shore areas and then the rebuilding that they have seen since then. A dim light was starting to glow.

Then on one of David and Delta’s walks along the swamp shore next to the park he noticed.. material. Housing material. He saw a twisted metal front door to a house, and what looked like construction type wood strewn about in the swamp... not just stuff people were dumping into the edge of the swamp on purpose but instead just laying out there amongst the grass, water, and mud. He did not notice at first this stuff is starting to be over taken by the swamp.

So... I got on the computer and did a little more research... much to my embarrassment. There is not really any old historic districts in the gulf shore towns we have been to lately and there are no little cute quaint shops... or businesses.. or homes... because hurricanes Ivan and Katrina wiped them off the face of the earth and they have not returned... yet.

As you may or may not remember, hurricane Ivan, a category 5 hurricane, hit the gulf coast in 2004. Then Katrina, a category 3, hit the very next year in 2005. Did you know that hurricanes generate tornadoes? I don’t think I knew that... Ivan generated 177 tornadoes that touched down just to add insult to injury in the gulf area that he was already battering. Some of those tornadoes wandered off into neighboring state which I am sure was much appreciated. Katrina had a total of 62 touch down... even though it was centered in Louisiana she thought she would also share her tornadoes and so 11 of those tornadoes touched down in Mississippi.

Sure we saw pictures of Ivan and Katrina on the news... and every once in awhile a news story resurfaces. But honestly... we have no friggen’ idea. When Ivan was still centered in the Gulf before is landed in Gulf Shores Alabama it was as big as the state of Texas. It has been 5-ish years and these areas are just now starting to rebound and to get past rebuilding the infrastructure.

So... to remedy this ignorance... we pulled up some pictures of the hurricane damage of the places where we have been (Gulf Shores, Alabama), where we are (Gautier and Biloxi Mississippi), and where we are going (New Orleans, LA). Then we went back to Biloxi and drove the beach strip again (all the way down to Pass Christian) with new eyes.

We saw on this trip what we did not notice the first time. We were so busy looking “up" for buildings and houses that our eyes skimmed over the fact that there along the road in the grasses were driveways to nothing. Foundations and pipes still sticking twisted out of the earth, walkways to and from nothing, fire hydrants in the middle of what we thought was a park but now we see was once a street on a block.

What I found poignant was that there were many porch stairs to nowhere.

Look up the drive in the center of the trees. Green steps and a landing with no home.
There were many steps left like this.

Stores or offices might have been gone but there were still parking lots. These lots contained light poles where you could see they were either torn off their bases and missing... or the poles were still standing but twisted and bent... pointing in the last direction of the hurricane’s deadly breath as it screamed by like a banshee.

How did we miss this?

We drove a little further towards Gulfport and Long Beach and saw buildings... brick and cement buildings with walls missing. Entire corners or walls gone... or maybe just all the windows blow out. These are the empty skeletons of homes... homes that have been empty now for years. One can still see the spray paint on the sides of the bricks saying “stay out!”, “no trespassing”, and “for sale not rebuilding”.

This picture below was of the Long Beach area. You can see what I mean by entire blocks suddenly being gone. The sandy muddy water either covered roads or the roads were just lifted up and broken apart from the force of the water.

This house, the "Castle House", still stands down near Pass Christian. Just a little more spray paint but it still sits and waits with plywood windows.

We noticed none of this during our first drive partially because we were not thinking about looking for hurricane damage. To us... that happened so long ago. We were not living this destruction and recovery. This below is a photo of semi-truck trailer rigs, with what I assume is partially a lumber yard and partially flotsam from houses washes away and gathered here. A little like the stuff David saw in the swamp.

Another reason we did not notice was because of all the work that HAS and IS being done. There might not be many, but there are new buildings and new houses. There are also crews planting new landscaping plants along the streets, rebuilding miles of beaches, pouring new sidewalks, completing the more cosmetic but less important parts of a town. It is a busy place.

As far as rebuilding a beach... you see the storms stripped the sand completely off the beach. That is kind of hard to grasp actually.

A stripped beach is not like low tide.. which is what I thought it would look like at first. That is not it though... instead the sand is completely wiped clean and what is left is dirt-like stuff.

Here is a section being rebuilt:

First, I imagine all these same work crews must have worked on bringing back fresh water, sewer, and electric lines, and rebuilding highway bridges. Yes... rebuilding highway bridges. On our way into the city we noted that Highway 90 has a nice new bridge into Biloxi from Ocean Springs. Quite a view going over the top of it actually. However, the reason they have a new bridge because the old one was destroyed.

You can still see parts of the old highway across the water. The hurricane ripped the roadway right off the pilings set down in the water. Many of the pilings still stand, with the occasional section of freeway leaning into the water. I am sure when push comes to shove and resources are limited it is more important to get an operating bridge built so that people and goods can move in and out of the area than to clean up the old destroyed one. That will come soon I am sure. Someone somewhere has a ordered list.

Even the palms that were torn out of the earth have been replanted and now stand supported along the completed sections of rebuilt beach. It is looking pretty good and again... the sand is like sugar.

What did stand through the storms and after water receded were the oaks.

Blocks that used to contain yards and houses... now only contain the oaks.

A few of the oaks fought hard right along the beach shore but did not make it. Instead of cutting them down, perhaps in homage to their strength, someone in Biloxi had the idea to have artists carve the remaining stumps. So... down the long center beach strip along Biloxi into Gulfport, Long Beach etc every once in awhile amongst the living oaks you see a trunk that has been carved into a beautiful bird (note the Mardi Gras beads around the eagle necks),

or a handful of dolphins swimming.

or some egrets:

As far as the historic downtown area that we were hoping to find?
The Biloxi Downtown Green was under 12 feet of water during the storms.

There is really not much of a “historic” area left near the beach... and we should all be sorry for that loss. However, we should also be proud of what the people in this area have done for the new Biloxi / gulf shores area.

People said Biloxi would be abandoned, it would remain in ruins. They said that it would not be rebuilt. The casinos would not return... business and tourism would never come back. Well... they were wrong. All wrong. Hurricanes are pretty tough but so are these southern folks.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post! I would love to go to New Orleans some day. I really like the change to your blog too. It looks "crisp".



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