A few weeks ago, I went back to a dog show site I loved. I loved the site, the town the show was held in, the ease of getting around and the comfort and security provided for the dogs at the show site. I hadn’t been to this show site in a long time—not since a few months before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast.
|flooding in Biloxi days after Katrina–courtesy of NOAA|
Biloxi, a town I loved, was utterly devastated by Katrina. I remembered what Biloxi looked like. I saw the pictures of what Katrina did to my favorite town on the Gulf coast. (For just the slightest idea of some of the destruction, go here http://llroberson.com/mskatrina.htm) Even looking at the before/after Katrina pictures couldn’t have prepared me for the current reality of Biloxi. Empty lot after empty lot stood gaping at the Gulf, like so many missing teeth in a smile. Some of those lots had a house’s foundation, scrubbed clean by the power of Katrina. Or, there were wide brick steps, leading into openness. There was the occasional driveway, marking where a home had once stood. Almost every one of those empty lots had realtor signs in them. A few had braved tempting the Fates and rebuilt. Many had not and will never rebuild. I chose not to drive north into the other sections of Biloxi because I had been told along US 90 it had been a priority to clean up. The interior of the town hadn’t been such a priority, I am assuming because that isn’t where the tourists go.
My friend and I arrived in Biloxi a little after eleven in the evening. In the dark, the emptiness of those missing homes between Gulfport and Biloxi wasn’t so obvious or painful. We went to the show site to set up exercise pens and give the “fur kids” a chance to potty. After taking care of that, instead of heading back to Gulfport to check into our hotel, I told my friend I wanted to head east on US 90 and see how bad it still was. I already had a good idea. All the bright lights of the casinos that used to line the Gulf side of 90 were gone: The Presidents, The Grand, Treasure Bay’s massive boat…gone. As I turned east onto 90 out of the Coliseum, I started crying. Right next to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum and Convention Center had been Beauvior, Jefferson Davis’s home. I knew it had been damaged heavily – to the point that there was speculation it would never be repaired.
Brilliant light flooded the area, and like a shining beacon, Beauvior rose into the humid night, completely renovated and gleaming in white. I’m not making any judgment on the politics and thoughts of the Civil War but I know how my gut twisted when I saw what that hurricane had done to Beauvior. To see her standing tall, and proud, and restored, bathed in spotlights, brought tears to my eyes. That home housed history and no matter how anyone feels about the personalities, politics, beliefs, and cultural norms of a society which shaped events to create history—history is worth saving and learning from. History is neutral. We bring the connotations: good, bad or indifferent to history.
We continued to drive east along what used to be Casino Row. What I saw was long stretches of beach. Daylight didn’t make it much better. Those gaping holes on the beach front hurt, until I saw what had been done with the jetty were The Presidents’ Casino used to stand. It has been turned into a park and campground. My friend and I looked at one another and just started to grin. Biloxi is recovering. Katrina dealt her a terrible body blow, but she is recovering.
That first evening, after showing, we took Jadelynn down to the beach, so she could go play in the sand. I took a picture of her playing in the gathering twilight at water’s edge and realized when I uploaded the pictures that the jetty encroaching into the Gulf was where The Presidents casino had been. We were on the beach just west of where the massive pirate boat of Treasure Bay Casino had been “moored.” The following pictures show the boat in all her glory, just hours before Katrina hit. The leading edge of the center of the storm is visible on the left side of the photograph. The next image was taken during a lull in the storm. Note where the boat is in relationship to the turreted entrance. And, the last shot is what was left of the boat after Katrina was done.
|One last look|
|ripped from her moorings|
|all that was left|
The section of the coast from Pas Christian to Biloxi (and parts of Mobile) were hit the hardest by Katrina. The damage done to New Orleans was not from Katrina directly but from arrogance and stupidity. (“Let’s build a football stadium to bring in more tourists and tourist money instead of shoring up the levy system—which even though the Army Corp of Engineers has been saying for half a century needs to be done—we’ll just hope for the best and pray we don’t get hit by a major hurricane.” In a nutshell, that was the thought process of the elected officials in New Orleans and Louisiana.) However, as I wrote, Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are slowly recovering. The gut punch of the BP oil spill didn’t help the recovery. The white sand beaches are pristine. Just don’t dig down more than a few inches into the sand out past the water line. You will find oil.
|the grayish green showing in the wave sculpted sand is shallowly buried oil from the BP spill|
All that being said, I intend to return to Biloxi. It was always one of my favorite show sites. I intend to spend money there. And, I will help with the recovery of the Gulf Coast. So, come on down, y’all.