Along the Gulf Coast, Post Katrina, Part 5: Waveland, Mississippi-Katrina at Ground Zero
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 de'jà-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.
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.