In the Air and Out of Concrete
While officials across the Coast are scrambling to find a way to help people rebuild their homes lost from Hurricane Katrina, some beachfront homeowners are building back, but it is clear that the new build heights and concerns over future hurricane storm surges are being considered. The towering concrete home in the photo (right) is in Gulfport a block off the beach.
Some fourteen months after Katrina, a drive down U.S. 90, the beach highway is dotted with a handful of new homes under construction. From Biloxi to Pass Christian, most of the lots are still weed-covered slabs or less where homes and apartments once stood. The most devastated areas are from west Biloxi to Pass Christian's Scenic Drive.
The homes that are being built look like nothing that has been on the Beach before. Some of these new homes tower in the air on raised dirt hills. Others are built of formed concrete that look somewhat like what a modern castle or bunker would look like. The purpose of both styles is to comply with the new height requirements as well as to withstand future hurricanes.
The area is still beautiful, the Coast's sand beach and ancient Live Oaks survived along the road and the water view is picturesque, but the empty lots surrounding the few homes being built will likely take years to fill in.
In the few surviving neighborhoods accessed from the beach highway, homes are occupied, but with temporary water and sewer pipes lining the streets. Water and sewer service all along the beach in the most damaged areas is out of service and those systems must be restored before more homes can be built.
The hurricane also destroyed many apartments. Most have been removed since the hurricane, but we found a huge apartment complex in west Long Beach set well off the beach that was still standing, though empty. Thousands of apartment units were lost during the storm and none along the beach have been rebuilt.
The new build height requirements, though not yet fully adopted in all Coast cities, means that new homes within the flood zones will be much higher. This adds costs and design issues that some families will likely not see as reasonable. This also means the historic look of homes that was once popular on the Coast will fade in areas prone to hurricane flooding.
There is some good news. The beachfront mansions in Pass Christian along the bluff on Scenic Drive are being repaired. While Pass Christian lost nearly 85 percent of all the homes in the city, many of the the large historic homes on Scenic Drive (photos below) survived and are being repaired. The contrast though between the new and the old is striking. (All of the photos in this story were shot in October 06)