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Katrina's "Recovery" And Empty Lots
by Keith Burton    Filed 1/28/06

A big part of the post-Katrina cleanup is removing the splintered remains of homes throughout the Coast. This is a slow process and a painful one as it means the loss forever of much of what was the life of the Coast. The quaint beachfront homes that marked the unique character of the Mississippi Coast is now gone.

What remains are huge tracks of land that are mostly littered with tons of tiny debris and trash that the large heavy equipment could not remove. This trash is picked up when it rains and distributed all along city streets and into the drainage pipes that run to the Mississippi Sound. The small trash will be harder to remove and in many places will be too much for property owners to resolve. A side issue has already developed in Long Beach. That city's officials have asked residents in the destroyed neighborhoods to make their in-ground swimming pools secure by February 6 as the pools are a safety hazard. Property holders are to fill them in, or fence them and provide treatment for the water as they are a danger to public health.

The empty lots don't just include homes. They include whole business areas in Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach and Pass Christian in Harrison county. The same is true for areas in Jackson and Hancock counties too.

In most of Pass Christian and Long Beach, those city's main business districts were along the beach, which five months after Katrina, now include only the slabs and parking lots of the businesses that once made for a thriving community.

In Long Beach, McDonalds (photo left), Burger King, and K-Mart have only their signs as reminders that something once occupied the land. K-Mart's building was completely leveled and now even the debris is gone. All that remains is a slab, chain link fence and a parking lot. (photo right)

The Wal-Mart in Pass Christian, built just a few years ago is only an empty shell, and the city's Winn Dixie shopping complex is a twisted mass of metal. That too will be removed.

In Biloxi east, the city's Point Cadet area is being completely cleared of the houses too, leaving an emptiness that is something you can feel. The same is true for large stretches of Gulfport, but especially in west Gulfport.

Gulfport's harbor (photo below left) has been cleaned up and looks more like a small lake. There are no pilings or boats right now, but it is ready for when the harbor can be restored.

What is certain, is that the Coast will not be same. Nor will it be likely that the visions of the governor's charrette designers that showed a coast filled with picturesque towns to be built in the future. The reason will come from new FEMA building requirements that will force building height restrictions that will make it almost impossible for homeowners in these destroyed neighborhoods to rebuild. The FEMA height requirements, which have not yet been finalized, will raise building heights that will convert many areas of the Coast into either parkland or areas where only highrise structures can be constructed. That is already beginning to happen in Biloxi's west beach area. Several condominium projects are  in the approval stage with some under construction underway now. But for the most part, Biloxi's "Strip" is a wasteland. (Photo below right)

Recently, Harrison County said it would rescind their adoption of a higher building code when they realized that much of the county could not be rebuilt, even in areas not on the beach, but are subject to flooding from the bays and rivers that would be affected by hurricane storm surges as was in the case of Katrina.

But the county and the cities may not be able to resist the FEMA requirements when they come and are final. That is because if they do, they may become ineligible for future FEMA disaster assistance as well as flood insurance if they do not adopt the higher build heights.

Many property owners have their lots for sale. Some are waiting on insurance and the FEMA height requirements. While residents can get a building permit for most areas to rebuild at the current height requirements, their window of opportunity is short.

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