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The Coast Struggles Back to its
Knees from Katrina's Blow

From Ground Zero

Keith Burton - GCN   Filed 9/8/05

It is over a week since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Mississippi Coast with a fury that exceeded Hurricane Camille in 1969. Camille was the benchmark for hurricanes that have hit the Mississippi Coast, and many people, including myself, did not expect the strength Katrina would generate just as it moved onshore.

When the rain and wind cleared we knew we faced a historic catastrophe. Early in the recovery, we all listened to the radio to hear that New Orleans had suffered damages, but had survived the storm surge that had wiped-clean so many of the homes here. We have an affinity for New Orleans here as much of our history, trade and culture on the Mississippi Coast are shared with the Crescent City.

But then we started getting news that water was coming into New Orleans, and at the time, no one knew where that was coming from. And all of you know the rest of the story. Believe me, with all our suffering and loss here on the Mississippi Coast, we feel the sorrow of what has happened in New Orleans, and we will be strong for them too.

The first week after the storm hit was an extremely difficult period for all of us here, we all were in shock cutoff from nearly a 100 percent failure of our communications and a full failure of power and water. We were in the dark at night under the sweltering humid conditions that made sleep almost impossible.

The days with heat indexes above 100 degrees sapped our strength and made clearing our homes a slow  almost overwhelming task. But we have to do the work as we know that rains will come. Making temporary repairs and just living life under these conditions is as hard as you can imagine. But we were the lucky ones. We had homes and our lives.

Conditions on the Coast continue to be difficult but life is becoming more tolerable. There are stores opening and gas is more available, but not at every location.

It is very dangerous to drive. With businesses opening, there is more traffic on the few main roads available and there are no traffic signals. I've nearly been hit by people who fail to stop at four-way intersections as they don't see any sign or reason to do so.

It is also disconcerting to travel around the community because so many of our landmarks are gone. I've driven pass streets that I was heading for time and time again because the landmarks are gone.

There is a lot of talk about what the future holds for the Mississippi Coast. Most people feel the Coast will be a boom town after the survival issues, such as water, food and fuel are behind us. I know that talk is too early, there are too many people that do not have homes and shelters are still too full. But the talk of the future is what we have, even though despair is never far from our minds. There is also the weird look of our trees, and the smell of rotten flesh the peeks into our noses. Those smells are not necessarily from dead people or animals, but the rotting ruin of the contents of thousands of refrigerators and freezers filling trash cans throughout the city. Our once lush green environment is filled now with the skeletons of trees, as if this is a land of ghosts.

But we remain worried about the low body counts. Every one believes the final count will be much higher than what has officially been announced. I haven't seen this, but law enforcement officials working around the Coast tell me that the waters in the Mississippi Sound and around the bays and bayous are filled with dead animals, maybe more. The military is soon to begin spraying for insects that are expected to multiply in the hope of staving-off insect-borne diseases. Everyday, caravans of emergency service workers are seen moving on roadways to the water driving pickup trucks pulling small boats. We know they are not out fishing. And in a day when many don't know the name of their neighbors, no one may ever know who is missing.

Everyone is tired. But there is hope. A hope that we have not seen the best of the Coast washed away. But the best are those people that remain to build a life here.

As GCN has stories that relate to what is happening with the recovery, it isn't needful to put them here as you can read them elsewhere. But I have some comments.

There have been mistakes and trouble getting help both to us and to New Orleans. But the scale of the disaster is not something that is easy to appreciate until you see it. It is frankly amazing that so much help is already on the ground and everyone here knows that. We all are beginning to stand back up after Katrina's blow and we will move forward.

It is also clear that people are amazingly resilient. Acts of kindness and generosity are everywhere and not just here but from folks far away, who have sent supplies and help in time and labor. It is America and the American Way at its finest and most noble....More later.

(Editor's Update 8/27/06: At the time of this story last year, almost all of the recovery effort was focused on Biloxi and Gulfport. Hancock County was on its own and that was ground zero for Katrina. As this became apparent, I began to seek out someone from Hancock County to provide some coverage there. I found that person in Mark Proulx, who was posting reports on Hancock County on the GCN Message Board. I contacted Mark who was living in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Mark's family has deep roots in Hancock County, and through his contacts there, GCN began critically needed coverage.)


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Mississippi Gulf Coast Reeling from Hurricane Katrina
From Ground Zero

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