Coast will rebuild, rebound, but it won’t be easy

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2005

Unbelievable. Devastating. Heart-wrenching.

These are but the beginning of the mind-numbing thoughts uponhearing of and seeing images of the path of destruction HurricaneKatrina ripped across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in southeastLouisiana.

As many residents of these storm-stricken areas longed to returnhome and see what’s left, those who stayed behind continued diggingout from the horror around them and taking in the grim reality.Those of us in other parts of the state were left to wonder, worryand pray for their safety, their future and their peace ofmind.

I spoke to a still-shaken friend from Gulfport on Wednesday -two days after Katrina’s most unwelcome visit – who described thescene there as like a war zone. Coming across a photograph later inthe day of a shell-shocked resident wandering a debris-litteredstreet as military Humvees rolled by on patrol, I could understandher description.

Instinctively, I checked the photo caption, asking “Is thisGulfport or Baghdad?” but sadly knowing the answer all along.

Another friend – this one from Ocean Springs in Jackson Countybut recently transplanted to New Orleans – called that night to letme know he was OK. He and his roommates escaped to Baton Rouge inthe hours before the storm made landfall.

“OK,” he said. Physically, perhaps. But emotionally he was inanguish as he said matter-of-factly, “I’m homeless.” With his NewOrleans apartment off-limits at best and forever lost at worst andhis family’s Ocean Springs home having taken on 6 feet of water, hewas, in a sense, exactly right. Homeless. Nowhere to go.

Relatives of mine in Pascagoula have found themselves in asimilar situation.

Blocks from the beach, my aunt and uncle’s home was drenched by5 feet of water, while my uncle’s office was all but submerged.

“We have nothing, Aunt Ann,” my teenage cousin told my mom.

Variations on these stories are certainly a common refrain thisweek from Pascagoula to Waveland as well as in the CrescentCity.

Having lived in Biloxi for only a year, I still find myselfattached to the coast, its culture, its landmarks and its people.Reading accounts of Katrina’s destruction, I realized this weekthat much of it was lost – culture, landmarks and, above all,people – a still unknown number of lives sadly lost to nature’sfury.

Viewing pictures taken along the beachfront and from the air, Iattempted to see what survived the hurricane’s pounding surf. Itwas easier to notice what did not.

“There should be a Shell station here, a Ruby Tuesday there, aRite-Aid drugstore on this corner.”

But there is not.

Homes, businesses and tourist attractions along with much of theinfrastructure simply is no more.

Rebuilding from this catastrophic natural disaster won’t beeasy. It will take years, and still things will never be quite thesame. The task will be a struggle, in many ways a painful reminderof what – and who – was lost.

But there is no doubt the effort will succeed. The people of thecoast are the very reason their community will rebound. From publicofficials to civic leaders to everyday folks, residents of theMississippi Gulf Coast are a resolved, resourceful and resilientbunch.

They cannot do it alone, but backed up by the encouragement,resources and commitment of their fellow Mississippians from thePine Belt to the Delta, the effort will succeed.

The Gulf Coast may be down, but don’t dare count her out.

J. Ben Kelly is managing editor of The DAILY LEADER. Contacthim by e-mail at bkelly@dailyleader.com or call (601) 833-6961,ext. 124.