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Trip to the Coast opens eyes once again

Like most Mississippians, my wife and I were very troubled by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. In the days after the historic storm made landfall August 29, 2005, we tried to do what we could to help.

We took in some family members from New Orleans for a few weeks. I helped take and distribute a load of needed supplies to the Coast. A friend and I helped his brother salvage some things from his flooded home in Long Beach. My wife spent a couple of days washing and drying dirty, water-soaked clothes. We made an extra contribution to the Salvation Army.

The small things that we did seem so inadequate because the need was, and is, so great.

Driving south

A few weekends ago, we met a need to see the Coast again. We began east of Biloxi and traveled west to Waveland and on to New Orleans. I have visited the Coast for more than 40 years and have many fond memories and favorite spots. Though I have visited the Florida panhandle and the Alabama coast many times, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast remains my favorite. I often say that I hope the world never discovers how wonderful it is.

When we arrived in Biloxi, I thought of those delicious shrimp po-boys and gumbo at Schooners, but the restaurant was completely gone. Mary Mahoney’s was heavily damaged but is now open for business. I was pleased that the old original building built in 1737 survived, and the soft shell crab plate was as good as ever.

Landmarks are gone and it is difficult to find reference points. Last summer, I eagerly checked on the construction progress of the new George Ohr Museum. This visit I did not recognize the spot. As we traveled further west, Mother Nature was crueler. I love architecture and have never tired of looking at the beautiful homes that lined the Coast. Few of them have survived. Fortunately, some of the historic homes in Pass Christian were heavily damaged but did survive.

We were unable to travel to Henderson Point to see another favorite vacation spot so we detoured via Interstate 10 to Waveland and Bay Saint Louis.

In Bay Saint Louis, we had a poignant encounter with a young man. He lived in Biloxi and had traveled to see Bay St. Louis for the first time since Katrina. He sadly said, “We had it bad, but this is much worse.” The beautiful old Victorian house on the bay that served as a bed and breakfast was gone. It was our favorite. Much of the historic district was destroyed.

In the end, encouraging

Our short trip to the Coast was sad but also encouraging. I was pleased with the progress of the clean-up process , even though much remains to be done. A can-do, roll up your sleeves and get it done attitude exists. Youth groups from churches and other volunteers were working. Signs like “We Are Staying!” and “You Loot We Shoot!” and “We Love the Pass” show spirit and hope is abundant.

In talking with Coast people, a spirit of hope, optimism and cooperation seems to exist, all in sharp contrast to New Orleans, where we ended our weekend roadtrip.

Seeing and supporting

I’ve hesitated to visit the Coast because I didn’t want to gawk or get in the way, but our recent trip opened my eyes: Mississippians need to see the Coast. And keep seeing it — and supporting it as the recovery and rebuilding continues.

So, head down and spend some money. Patronize the restaurants, hotels, casinos and other businesses that have re-opened. Buy a tank of gasoline. Take the kids out to Ship Island. Go for a tour on the Biloxi Schooner.

Sell your out-of-state condo and buy on the Coast. Buy Mississippi seafood. Schedule your association and convention meetings on the Coast. Expand your business by opening a branch in the GO Zone. Take a deep-sea fishing trip. Volunteer for work and give money to Habit for Humanity. Organize a church or civic group project to help the Coast.

Don’t forget that the needs created by the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States will exist for years to come and that the greatest need is in the towns further west, like Bay Saint Louis and Waveland.

Archie King of Madison writes regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is aking4@jam.rr.net.

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