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Gulf Coast revisited: still a long way to recover from Katrina

Three years ago, in late July, the Southern Cotton Ginners Association met at Biloxi, Miss. A couple of weeks later, Hurricane Katrina roared through.

The whole world has seen photos of the devastation. While most of the media coverage centered on New Orleans, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, more in the center of the storm’s fury, looked as if it had sustained an A-bomb blast.

Three years later, back in Biloxi for another SCGA meeting, it’s obvious there’s a long way to go before the coast is anything like it was before the big blow.

The ritzy Beau Rivage beachfront casino/hotel had a flood surge up to its mezzanine level. With the deep pockets of the Las Vegas MGM/Mirage empire behind it, it was one of the first major businesses along coastal Highway 90 to be back in operation. The Hard Rock casino/hotel, only weeks from its opening three years ago, suffered enormous damage from the storm, but is now up and running. Another casino, jutting into the gulf where the marina was once located, was obliterated and is now only a shell of girders.

The storm only pointed up the shortsightedness of state and coastal powers-that-be in allowing buildings of any kind on the beach. Unfortunately, businesses are springing up again on the beach side.

Highway 90 from Gulfport to Biloxi is still mostly two lanes. Construction fences and orange barrels are everywhere. Many of the businesses and stately homes across from the beach were wiped out, leaving only concrete slabs and the occasional brick pillars.

Mary Mahoney’s restaurant, to which countless thousands have made pilgrimages for the sinfully rich seafood dishes and bread pudding, has reopened, and a handful of the other long-time restaurants along Highway 90 are in business again. A lot of others probably are gone forever; many were on the ropes financially before the storm ever hit — unable to compete with the lavish, cheap buffets of the casinos.

Much of the sand beach that ran for 26 miles along the coast has been rebuilt, but support and access facilities such as sidewalks, parking, etc., are somewhat lacking. Even on the weekend, beachgoers were sparse.

Contrasts abound. Houses that for decades looked as if they would collapse at the slightest provocation, still stand, while neighboring houses were demolished. A scant 100 yards from the water, the towering stone markers and marble crypts of an old cemetery are unscathed.

Many of the magnificent live oak trees that have survived scores of hurricanes over hundreds of years, are dead. But thankfully, most are putting out new growth after the storm’s pruning.

There are still scads of vacant lots and “For Sale” signs. The coast is coming back, ever so slowly, and perhaps one day will be better than before.

In my July 17 column on commodity futures speculation, a transcription error resulted in an incorrect statement of the position of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Her statement was, “While I believe that the influx of money by pension funds has had a detrimental impact on prices, prohibiting investments risks harming future and current retirees.


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