I feel stripped bare by what Hurricane Katrina has done. I did not think it possible that the destruction that I saw in D'Iberville and Biloxi could be any worse. But what I show in Gulfport this past Saturday still haunts me and will for a long time. The sad thing is that the further west you go along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the worse it is. If Gulfport is that bad, I cannot imagine what Long Beach, Pass Christian, Bay St Louis, Waveland, and Lakeshore look like.
Every time I turn around there are constant reminders of Hurricane Katrina. Most days I can deal with it. Some days, it takes a supreme effort to just do the daily things.
It's a constant roller coaster of emotions. Yesterday there was joy and sorrow. Joy that the parts to rebuild the racking system at the cold storage started coming in and that the placement of rebar and the building of the concrete forms is speeding along for the rebuilding of the factory. Then there are the calls from long time retail customers that cry when they learn of the destruction of the seafood market and tell you "Bless your heart and we love you" and your only response can be "We love y'all too".
Even placing long distance phone calls out of state is a reminder. When talking to people you haven't talked to since the hurricane hit, there is a pattern, first there is the joy that we're still around and then the sadness at the destruction.
It's been more than 100 days of this. There is the worry that Congress is not going to come through this session for the $34 billion that is sorely needed to rebuild. City halls were destroyed. Police and fire stations were destroyed. Libraries were destroyed. Utilities are still being repaired. The whole electric grid will need to be repaired and even though all those who can have power now have it, there is still a lot of work to be done.
And the homes, the 68,000 in Mississippi that were destroyed. Half of them were not even on the 100 year flood plains much less on the flood plains that require flood insurance for a mortgage. Then there are the precious lives lost. In Mississippi, 238 lives were lost. The majority were elderly who chose to stay in their homes believing they were safe based on what Hurricane Camille had done in 1969. Almost every day there is a special obituary memorial of someone who died during Hurricane Katrina.
Even taking a lunch date is no break. For then you learn of the destruction of the house that his father built with his own hands 50 years ago. And you learn that all of his equipment he used for his business was destroyed.
You call your family and friends and for a few brief moments there is an absence of Katrina but it creeps in after awhile, for the favorite game in the South is did you hear, and so more Katrina stories are shared.
The traffic jams are horrendous because two major arteries are out of commission. Hwy 90 is still closed in Biloxi and the two bridges at either end mean people from Ocean Springs and Bay St Louis have to travel circuitous routes. The same for those that rely on Popps Ferry Road. Next to I-110, this is the busiest route into Biloxi and the bridge is still out.
Hurricane Katrina has stripped my life and the lives of over 300,000 Mississippians bare. Even though stores are open, there is still a scarcity of goods at times. Going to places like Mobile helps and then it doesn't. You escape for awhile but then you come back to the reality.
At times there is doubt that we'll be able to rebuild. For the most part that doubt is unspoken but in discussing it with others, the doubt is there at times. When I have seen miles and miles of destruction, I believe it's a natural reaction.
My heart aches for my city of Gulfport and the lives of the people in it. It aches for everyone on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina brutalized us and some of the scars are unseen. It has stripped us bare. But in doing so has exposed strengths that were unknown. The first and foremost is the strength of the community down here. There's a realization that we're in this together and that it's going to take all of us to rebuild. Then there's the strength of faith. There is also the realization that so many people have come from places like Virginia, Canada, California, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and all corners of the country to volunteer their time to help us. We are not alone and that also gives me and so many others strength. The continued prayers of so many also help us.