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BABY STEPS
Rebuilding property and lives continues on the Coast

by Bruce W. Smith - Special to GCN
Filed 10/4/05

Casey Valadie raises himself out of a hole he chopped in the roof of what used to be his girlfriend’s house on the north end of St. Joe street and gazes a half-mile to the south. He could probably see the Gulf if not for the sea of debris of what used to be modest homes set amidst towering shore pines and stately oaks.

But the view is painful and his eyes drift back to the broken boards and tangled mass around the asphalt shingle island he’s now sitting atop. All he wants to do now is find just a couple heirlooms the family had hoped had floated into the rafters of their house when the 30-foot tidal surge of Hurricane Katrina swept over this Mississippi town, erasing lifetimes of dreams as the waters rose and 140mph winds tore through the trees.

So far his search has yielded little of the family history. But he vows to keep looking, taking one careful baby step over the debris at a time until the bulldozers and giant trackhoes come to remove the rubble.

A few miles to the East another part of the healing process is in full swing as crews use giant barge-mounted cranes to remove 300-ton sections of railroad bridge from the bottom of Bay St. Louis. Katrina swept the massive concrete-and-steel off their pillars like a broom to dirt.

Original estimates said it would take at least six months to rebuild the 1.7-mile-long railroad bridge that stood as the last manmade structure boaters passed beneath while heading for the rich waters of the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico beyond.

The bridge building construction crews are optimistic, one saying “We’re just getting started, but think it’ll be done in four.” 

A half-dozen miles on the other side of the bay a five-man crew from Arkansas Entergy uses a backhoe to remove big chunks of broken asphalt and other debris so they can make repairs to the natural gas lines that were once buried safely four feet beneath Pass Christian’s famous Scenic Drive. Now some lay bare to the sky.

Scenic Drive, along with every home and business within the main part of “The Pass,” suffered severe damage. Now a month after Hurricane Katrina roared ashore the first repairs to the city’s fragile infrastructure taking place—one broken pipe at a time.

Just up the road along Highway 90 dozens of graders, dozers, dump trucks and asphalt-laying machines are being used to rebuild the Coast’s main East-West beachfront artery.

First sand and debris from destroyed homes, trees, and even the roadbed itself has to be hauled away just to find a starting to point. Once that is done, a new roadbed is laid and prepped for the asphalt that will be used as a temporary fix that will allow traffic to once-again flow. It’s slow, time-consuming work. 

Life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is on the mend. But it’s with the smallest of baby steps.

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