Friday, August 27, 2010

Five Years On

Today marks the 5th anniversary of hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast. My family and I, as is our wont, took our summer vacation and made a return to the Coast this year. It had been 5 years since our last sojourn there, shortly before Katrina hit. Despite the presence of an oil spill we decided that it was time to make our way back and see what had been happening down there. The answer...not a lot.
The reminders of Katrina were still there, etched on the landscape like a wound that just refuses to heal. Where there were once houses and business there are still empty lots and bare slabs, scoured clean by the fury of the hurricane.
Some businesses have rebuilt, but far too few. There are areas where old and new homes mingle, fronting the beach (primarily between Gulfport and Biloxi), but there are far fewer now than there were prior to the storm. There are far too many empty and overgrown lots. The folks who once lived there have moved on, either farther north and away from the beach or out of the county or state entirely. A new diaspora has occurred and it has left its mark on the area where I once lived. It's painfully obvious that the coast was forgotten in the aftermath of the storm and that what attention was paid to the area was given to New Orleans, which did not suffer as much as points east. We even heard the same from a New Orleanian when we were there.
I must say, tho that I was pleased to see one thing. Where once stately live oaks grew and lined the highway along the coast there now exist wooden statues, carved from the remains of the shattered trees. Instead of digging them up and consigning them to the fire pits they have been lovingly carved into coast centric forms. Reborn as a symbol of hope along a still devastated coast.
I must also say that I was much relieved to see that the Deep Horizon oil spill had not taken a toll on the beaches. The vagaries of wind, tide, current and barrier islands had manage to keep most of the oil away from the beaches of Gulfport. There were some signs of the spill, tho. Cleanup crews festooned the beaches, removing even the smallest of tar balls. We even got to speak with two of them and they were informative, even going so far as to show us what the small tar balls looked like. This is not to say that there was no oil there. There certainly is some buried under the sand of the beaches at the water line. And there's a mix of scum, oil and dispersant that washes up. Rather nasty looking stuff. This latest disaster was something the coast didn't need or deserve.
It's just rather sad that, five years on, the signs of recovery are so few. Coastians are a hardy breed, tho. They have to be in that heat and with the constant threat of destruction via storm looming over them on a yearly basis. There is no doubt in my mind, tho that the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been forgotten. New Orleans is what comes to the minds of most people when you remember Katrina. Not the places that were actually hit with the full force of the storm. New Orleans today looks much like it did prior to Katrina. Oh, there are still signs of destruction there, but they're nothing like the scale of what one sees on the Gulf Coast. New Orleans was a city in decline before the storm and abandoned buildings existed all up and down Canal Street. Those buildings are still there and still abandoned. Signs, not of the storms fury, but of the inevitable decay that's been plaguing New Orleans for decades.
Here's hoping that the Coast is remembered and that the next five years are better than the previous. To see this wounded landscape remaining the same a decade after Katrina would be too much.