Thursday, June 29, 2006
My first trip along the beach in Biloxi since Hurricane Katrina’s destruction was brief.
Pam and I drove past the many concrete slabs on Friday where homes and thriving businesses once stood. We reached the Broadwater, where I recall my earliest Mississippi Press Association conventions. It was torn to shreds, with only hanging electrical wires visible in some downstairs rooms.
We stopped shortly thereafter and turned around on Highway 90. I had seen enough of the devastation caused by the worst storm surge ever in this country.
Last year’s convention was in beautiful, quaint Bay St. Louis, just two months before Katrina. I didn’t want to go back there. I wanted to remember Bay St. Louis as it was on my first visit.
Others in our association toured the coastal counties via bus, including Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
“If you haven’t seen it, you will be knocked back by the destruction,” said Gov. Haley Barbour, who is leading the recovery, rebuilding and renewal activities. “If you’ve been here since August 29, 2005, you will be knocked back by the progress.”
It’s 10 months after Hurricane Katrina hit. Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is bouncing back with determination, hard work and unity.
“Our people are not into whining, not into victimhood,” Barbour said. “Our people were knocked down, but that same day, our people on the coast hitched up their britches and got to work.
“There has been great community spirit and caring from day one, and that spirit is being seen all over the country. The spirit of our people is the key.”
Hurricane Katrina left more than 45 million cubic yards of debris in its wake, twice as much as the previous record caused by Hurricane Andrew. As of June 19, 97 percent of the debris has been removed statewide, and 96 percent of the debris in the three coastal counties has been removed. Removal of debris in the Mississippi Sound and related tributaries has begun.
“We had debris 10 and 20 feet tall all along the beach,” Barbour said during his talk with newspaper representatives during the convention. “Houses, cars, mattresses – you could not find the streets. People who have lived here all their lives got lost. They could not find their own houses. Landmarks were gone.”
The damage was not by wind but flooding.
“It’s amazing how people survived the storm in trees and on rooftops,” Barbour said.
He praised the first responders, plus the many rescue personnel and the tens of thousands of volunteers who have helped.
“The acts of courage and selflessness are unbelievable,” Barbour said.
After Camille, it took eight weeks to restore electricity. This time around it took Mississippi Power less than two weeks.
Temporary housing after a disaster has never been installed as fast or on such a large scale as it has been in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. This has made it possible for Mississippians to stay near their homes, schools and workplaces. As of June 19, more than 103,000 Mississippians occupy 38,328 temporary housing units. According to the independent demographic research firm Claritas, the population of the six coastal Mississippi counties is currently 98 percent of the pre-Katrina population.
Barbour said 82 percent of those in temporary housing are on lots where their homes used to be.
“That’s a great indication of the people’s intent,” he said.
The coast will be back, and I think sooner than some expect.
“My goal is to set the standard for how a community and state recovers from a terrible natural disaster,” Barbour said. “The opportunities here are phenomenal.”
Please keep the people on the Gulf Coast in your thoughts and prayers. Don’t forget them.
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