On August 29th, 2005, I was sitting in a hotel room in Fort Walton Beach, FL, with my wife, my best friend, and his wife. We were attempting to watch the news between power outages, sitting in the sweltering heat, and listening to the wind rage outside. The air conditioner had given up the ghost long before, due to the amount of sand it had been force-fed by the winds of Katrina. When the electricity was on, we were able to catch glimpses of the destruction that was being wrought by this powerful storm. There was news from New Orleans about the levees breaking; there was news from Mobile about flooding downtown, but there was no news from Biloxi whatsoever, which meant that either by some meteorological anomaly the MS Gulf Coast had been spared, or that the news crews were unable to report due to the extreme weather conditions there. It turned out, of course, to be the latter.
We returned to Biloxi on Tuesday, August 30th, and the two and a half hour journey took nearly eight hours, due to road closures and detours, fallen trees and downed power lines. We arrived on the coast about an hour before dark, and began to visit the properties that we owned. I cannot put into words the destruction that met us, and the pictures that I have taken barely convey the sights that we saw that day and the days thereafter.
The entrance to the condo that we own in Gulfport, MS was littered with 2 feet of debris from the storm surge. Being only 1 block from the beach, the condo took in 5 feet of water, but the structure itself remained intact. In walking around the property and the surrounding homes, we saw the tattered remains of peoples lives: pictures; articles of clothing; toys (including a stuffed animal still playing a song); and vehicles buried in debris.
We made it home just before dusk, and on the way there, I feared the worst, because the sheer destruction of the area was incredible. We carefully navigated around fallen trees and debris and pulled into the driveway of our home. In walking around the property, I noticed a water line around the bottom of the chain wall that was only 2-3 inches high, enough to come up to the front door, but not enough to come into the house. The amazing thing about this is that our house was only 1 block from the bay, and every house north of us on the bay side had flooded with anywhere from 12 inches to several feet of water. The interior of our home was largely untouched, with the exception of sagging sheetrock from a few leaks here and there from the roof damage that the home sustained, and the fact that the chimney was ripped off.
As it began to get dark, we went to our friends' home. They wanted to see how they had fared in the storm, and upon arrival, we discovered that they had definitely gotten the worst end of the deal. Their home had about 4-5 feet of water in it, and all of their belongings were waterlogged and strewn all over the place, including the refrigerator, which was flipped over in the kitchen.
We went back to our house and spent the night, without electricity or water, which was a delightful experience. The next morning, we got up and drove to Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard) to view more of the destruction. What we saw will forever be embedded in my mind. The first thing I noticed was that there was so much of the beach to see - a beach that had previously been populated with restaurants, casinos, hotels, and gas stations was eerily empty except for a few slabs here and there. The huge casino barges, which weigh several hundred tons, were torn from their moorings and tossed across the highway like they were toy boats. Huge plantation-style homes that had stood for hundreds of years were gone, or reduced to a shell of their former glory. And then there were the coffins - littering the road across from an above-ground mausoleum that had housed hundreds of the deceased. Some were cut in half and thrown onto the beach, others were battered and hanging halfway out of their crypts. The air was heavy with despair and sadness, and there was a smell in the air that I couldn't quite place at first; then it hit me - it was the smell of death.
Over 200 people lost their lives on the Gulf Coast that day, either because they were too old to evacuate, or because they couldn't afford to. There were also those that had lived through Hurricane Camille in 1969, and thought they would never see anything of that magnitude again. Of course, they were wrong.
Over the next few weeks, as the cleanup began, we heard the tales of the people swimming out of their homes to higher ground; of people who watched their loved ones die in front of them, powerless to help; of those who lost everything they owned and had no insurance to cover the damages. When those tales were told, we came to realize one thing: God had blessed us immensely, as undeserving and unworthy as we were, and we are forever in His debt.
Here are a few pics from my collection. They're an indication of what a 30 foot storm surge can do in just a few hours.
Here's an amazing (but not uncommon) one: