The Katrina Aftermath: The Long Road to Biloxi

While most of the focus of Katrina’s damage centers around New Orleans and the death toll there, many areas suffered worse physical devastation. Another Red Cross volunteer and I drove from New Orleans to Biloxi and bore witness to unbelievable and total destruction.

Route 90, which largely follows the coastline from New Orleans to Biloxi, revealed the breadth of the storm damage. For nearly 100 miles, we saw the unimaginable. Katrina lifted hundreds homes off their foundations. All that remained were the water and sewer pipes that were firmly anchored in the cement foundations. The houses themselves had been beaten to pieces which were deposited as high as 20 feet in the area trees.

Boats impaled themselves in houses and storefront windows. Vehicles had been tossed and crushed like soda cans, whipped around like paper cups in a strong wind. The tide obliterated businesses – taking with it the stock and furniture, leaving behind sand and debris. Nothing was left untouched along the Waveland section of Route 90.

As of the first weekend in November, things remain largely as Katrina left them – only the streets have been cleaned. In Waveland, we noticed only one restaurant had reopened. Even the corporate icons have been unable or unwilling to restore service.

Along the roadway, tent cities and trailer parks have cropped up. Some of these house relief workers; others house displaced families. All local buildings have been deemed uninhabitable. In areas where houses have been badly damaged yet left standing, owners spray painted signs indicating their current “address” – like “by the Post Office.” One sign just said “We are alive” and listed the family’s names.

Although Gulfport fared a bit better, the damage impacted all of the coastal buildings. One sight in particular will stick in my memory forever. Sitting broad side to the Gulf, a huge church bore the brunt of the tidal flooding. The walls horizontal to the coastline had been punched through, leaving only the perpendicular walls standing. The roof mostly intact and still held the steeple proudly. The water had been unable to dislodge the altar or the bolted-down pews. It looked as if Sunday morning services were to be held in the open air.

Just east of the church, someone had spray painted a plywood sign and hung it over the foundation that had previously supported his house. It read: “Avenue of Broken Dreams.”

During my deployment, what struck me most about the Katrina aftermath was how little had changed since she hit the Gulf Coast. With the sheer magnitude of the destruction, all agencies, businesses and organization designed to aid in the restoration are overwhelmed. They never experienced a disaster of this magnitude. It was simply unthinkable. Apparently, we must recalibrate the system.

With the evacuations and relocations, manpower is at a premium. Homeowners cannot begin removal and reconstruction due to backlogs in insurance adjusting, contractor availability and constructions supply issues. Some are having difficulty receiving their insurance checks for lack of a stable address. Stores and restaurants remain closed with their own cleanup/construction issues or staffing deficiencies. Katrina’s effects will be felt in the Louisiana and Mississippi coast for a long, long time to come.

(Writer’s Note: I have been redeployed to the Katrina disaster area and will likely leave the beginning of next week. Perhaps I will post again upon my return.)

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One Response to “The Katrina Aftermath: The Long Road to Biloxi”

  1. Still unimaginable

    For those of us far removed geographically from the gulf coast, it is still quite unimaginable the scope of destruction that Hurricane Katrina caused. And even more unimaginable is that these months later not much has changed there. In the first few da…