Even five years later, it’s hard to put into words what Hurricane Katrina did to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
People throw around statistics that include millions of cubic yards of debris as compared to other hurricanes. It kind of all runs together after a while.
Pictures and video don’t do it justice, because many of the pictures, no matter where they are taken, kind of all look alike.
FOX News celebrity Shepherd Smith once said his producers told him to stop showing video of the devastated Mississippi Gulf Coast, because it was boring the audience.
So, try this on for size.
Pretend that all of you live in Jackson.
Go out of your house, get in your car and pull out of your driveway.
Drive to Winona.
Now, imagine that all of the farm land and pine trees that you see along the way once had houses and businesses on it. Every cotton field was jammed with homes. Every stand of trees had gas stations and fast food restaurants. Every bean field was a grocery store, Wal-Mart or pharmacy.
That’s roughly 70 miles of complete and total devastation.
And unless you drive the length of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, along the beach, it is very hard to wrap your mind around what happened.
I thought I had an idea.
I had lived on the Coast and had visited on multiple occasions and seen much of the destruction, but until I went back a after a couple of years and actually drove the length of the Coast, I had no idea.
Other than casinos, which have an unlimited cash supply, there are still many structures still to rebuilt in the hardest hit areas of the Coast.
As has been stated a million times before, Katrina was an equal-opportunity destroyer.
“It’s our tsunami,” Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said immediately after Hurricane Katrina.
It didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor, black or white, fat or skinny. If you lived anywhere near water that was connected to the Gulf of Mexico, Katrina had an ever-lasting effect on your life.
Go back to that drive to Winona.
Imagine 40 feet of water in some places with 15-foot waves on top of that.
That is exactly what happened in South Mississippi.
And even the rest of us in Mississippi, who should know more about the Coast’s plight, cannot grasp what has happened to our brothers and sisters a few hours away.
So it’s no wonder that the rest of the United States believes that life is back to normal on the Mississippi Coast.
“I had no idea,” USA Today editorial writer Sonya Torry once told me after viewing East Biloxi in a short tour of some of the devastated areas.
“Now, imagine 70 miles of what you have just seen,” she was told.
On a visit back, I remember one place where a house once stood in Biloxi, I reached down and picked up a small piece of broken china. Once the dirt and mud were brushed aside, there was a flower pattern that could be made out.
That, and a few other small memories, were left.
And there had been no clean-up there. The storm surge had deposited this house nearly a half mile mile away, making cleanup unnecessary.
Now, imagine that is the case all the way from Jackson to Winona. A few pieces of broken china, a child’s marble and a shoelace. That’s all that’s left, for 70 miles.
Having said that, there is hope on the Coast. People believe life will get better.
“It is going to take 10 years,” one will say.
“It will be back in 15 years,” another will say.
And most believe South Mississippi will be better in the long run.
That’s not to say it will be the same.
Just as the Coast wasn’t the same after Hurricane Camille in 1969, South Mississippi will not be the same when the dust has cleared from the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, whether that is in 10 or 15 or 20 years.
What will be the same is the indomitable spirit of Mississippians that has allowed us to bounce back from the nation’s worst tragedies over and over again, whether it be the Great Flood of 1927 or Hurricane Camille or Hurricane Katrina.
We will bounce back, all of us as one.
Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.