27 February, 2006

Gulfport, Mississippi

I was in southern Mississippi over the weekend for professional reasons. While I was there, some acquaintances encouraged me to visit Gulfport and take a look at the coastline. Remember, they said, that what's more important than what you see, is what you don't see.

I drove down there to see what they were talking about. Driving south along highway 49 is an education in itself; the road is lined with trees that were snapped in half. Many houses remain covered in tarp (five months after the hurricane — and it was raining hard on Saturday), while others look abandoned. A few roofs looked new; someone told me that is because they probably were new. I'm told that contractors are still employed around the clock, and I know that some church groups continue to travel there to help rebuild; one group of teenagers was on the plane with me, and started singing a hymn while people were boarding the plane.

Much of Gulfport looked in reasonably good shape. However, as I approached the coast, I began to see a number of houses and trees that looked... bad. The phrase "war zone" came to mind. Signs for roof contractors and chemicals to fight mold appear all over the place. One building was missing a lot of bricks that covered an inner cinderblock wall; I wondered if that was due to the storm surge, or something else.

The coast itself is spooky. Debris hangs limply from trees, as if the hurricane struck only last week. I couldn't make out exactly what the debris was from my car; some of it looked like bedsheets.

Along the coastline, foundations are all that remain of houses that once stood proud; the walls and the furniture were all swept away. What you see isn't as important as what you don't see. The MGM Grand Casino is the only structure on the coast that looked relatively unscathed, but for all I know MGM has been rebuilding that over the last few months.

In any case, the First Baptist Church wasn't nearly so lucky, despite being on slightly higher ground. The storm surge smashed away the walls parallel to the shoreline, while the walls perpendicular to the shoreline remained standing. The roof still stands precariously, supported by the two remaining walls. As I drove past, I could see the stately, sky-blue and cloud-white interior wall against which a choir and the ministers once sang their praises to God.

Perhaps they still do, but that roof looked dangerous. That the church continues to stand in that condition after five months hints at what an unimaginable disaster Hurricane Katrina was.

Meanwhile, the residents had closed off part of Highway 49 to prepare for a Mardi Gras parade. Mardi Gras, it seems, is pretty popular throughout southern Mississippi. I had no idea.

1 comment:

kathy said...

please keep passing on the story of Mississippi, even after all these months. MS has been so forgotten with New Orleans in the limelight..Louisiana was levees-Mississipe was the wrath of mother nature..we lived in Pass Christian off the Bay of St. Louis, evacuated the day before the storm to Alabama--haven't been back since. Friend said that nothing is left..Don't bother.. People need to know about the destruction that is still visible in MS seven months later.. I miss my friends and neighbors whom I will never see again..We are in Florida and planning to go back west after winter..Keep passing the word. I will always miss my Mississippi.