Along the Gulf Coast, Post Katrina, Part 5: Waveland, Mississippi-Katrina at Ground Zero
What's left of a house in Waveland after Katrina
During this, my second trip to Mississippi in less than a month, on a warm Sunday, May 20th I drove to New Orleans again to visit the Zen Center on Camp Street and experience more Zazen, Zen sitting meditation, which I am a neophyte at. Then, after breakfast in and strolling about the French Quarter, hanging out at the Krazy Korner on Bourbon Street for a time enjoying a really rocking Cajun/Zydeco-style band, I headed back east past the border and turned off onto Route 607, which quickly merges into Highway 90, zeroing in on Waveland. I wanted to take a look at several more towns today in Mississippi, in particular those within the area that local historians refer to as "the Riviera of the South", roughly paralleling the US 90 scenic route and consisting of the coastline from just east of the Mississippi-Louisiana border in the Waveland-Bay St. Louis area, across St. Louis Bay into Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport and Biloxi, then across the Back Bay of Biloxi and on into Ocean Springs and Gautier. There are smaller communities such as Lakeshore and Fountainebleau also dotting this coastline.
My home base, Pascagoula, just east of Gautier, has, as John Morykwas, the great-grandson of George E. Ohr, the famous Mad Potter of Biloxi, explained to me, always been an industrial town too blue collar to be truly a part of the Riviera, which began when wealthy New Orleans families started retreating to summer antebellum mansions and cottages on the ocean-breeze cooled Mississippi Gulf Coast to escape the sweltering heat of New Orleans. From the 1920's to the 1970's was the Riviera's historical heyday according to John, and attracted vacationers from throughout the States and beyond, including such unsavory characters as Al Capone and his mob and, of course, countless movie-stars, a resort area further glamorized by grand hotels, fine sea food and deep sea fishing, as well as the famous Gulfport Open Golf Tournaments in the 1940's at the Great Southern Golf Club. Golf courses, in general, are prolific along the Riviera. Such famous hotels as the now defunct Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi, one of the largest in America at one time, catered to celebrities and the rich.
The Riviera's fortunes began to decline, however, after the August 17, 1969 catastrophe of Camille, a Category 5 hurricane that smashed into the Mississippi coast, flattening nearly everything. It took years to rebuild. Nonetheless, beautiful mansions and houses were once again gracing the northside of Highway 90 from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi, the Casino-Hotels were throbbing with action, and enterprising Mississippi fishing fleets were inundating the multitudinous restaurants along US 90 with delicious seafood. That is, until Katrina struck. This was dejÃ-vu, but even worse.
On August 27, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, a rather awesome Category 3 hurricane, with a higher storm surge than Camille in some locales, all but destroyed the coastal town of Waveland, consisting of some 6,674 people and 3,442 housing units (2000 census). The eyewall of the Hurricane directly passed over it, unleashing a 32 foot storm surge at high tide. Some 50 lives were lost, gruesomely adding to the tragic legacy of Camille 36 years earlier. Indeed Katrina, as if to ridicule that memory, even damaged the Camille memorial site.
This mosaic honoring Camille's victims is all that remains of old City Hall.
Here is an excerpt from the AP bulletin on August 31, four days later:
"Shell-shocked survivors wandered through the splinters of this town Wednesday, scavenging what they could from the homes and businesses that were completely washed away.
"Hurricane Katrina obliterated Waveland, and state officials said it took a harder hit from the wind and water than any other town along the coast. The storm dragged away nearly every home and business within a half mile of the beach, leaving driveways and walkways to nowhere.
"The town of 7,000 about 35 miles east of New Orleans has been partially cut off because the U.S. 90 bridge over the Bay of St. Louis was destroyed. Rescue workers there Wednesday found survivors in makeshift shelters, surviving off what they found in the rubble. The air smelled of natural gas, lumber and rotting flesh.
"The storm surge left a few roofs intact but without the buildings attached to them. The water scattered random reminders of what had been normal, quiet lives: family photos, Barbie dolls, jazz records, whiskey bottles." (http://www.wwltv.com/topstories/stories/wwl083105waveland.11adc324.html )
Interestingly enough, the same year that Camille struck, 1969, an apparently unrelated incident was occurring in San Francisco, California, my old hometown. The first gathering of a "hippie" counterculture "peace, love and harmony with Mother Nature" group that came to be known as the Rainbow Family, or Rainbow Tribe, took place, the first of many, for unlike most 60's countercultural movements, this one had staying power and has attracted an international following, meeting annually on US Forest Service lands with thousands of attendees. To quote from their website:
" The Rainbow Family of Living Light, sometimes known as the "Rainbow Tribe", is an international loose affiliation of individuals who have a common goal of trying to achieve peace and love on Earth. Those who participate in, or sympathize with, the activities of this group sometimes refer to their group simply as the "Family". The words: Rainbow Family in the longer title are a reference to the group's inclusiveness of all colors or races. The use of the phrase: Living Light in the longer title is a reference to "living lightly", or living with little mass or impact on the environment. Rainbow family participants make the claim that their group is the "largest non-organization of non-members in the world"....There are no official leaders, no structure, no official spokespersons, and no membership. Instead, the Rainbow Family forms community through shared "traditions" of love for the Earth, and gatherings to pray for peace. It is maintained by councils consisting of any "non-member" who wishes to be part of the council." (see http://welcomehere.org/2007/ )