Sunday, November 27, 2005
Thanksgiving on the Gulf Coast
Thanksgiving Day dawned clear and cool on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In fact the weather for Thanksgiving and what retailers call Black Friday were both beautiful, warm, and clear days.
Two churches in Long Beach held outside dinners on Thanksgiving Day at picnic tables. There were many people who enjoyed good food, new friendships, and shared struggles while enjoying the beautiful weather that seemed almost magical in contrast to what everyone suffered on August 29, 2005.
Friday I cruised along some of the Gulf Coast seeing damage that still remains. Going I-110 south off I-10 to where the Beau Rivage still looms, I took the off-ramp for Imperial Palace since that is the only casino still in operation. I turned right instead and followed the road along Back Bay and witnessed some of Katrina's storm surge. What used to be nice single story houses looking out over the water are now gutted out ruins where roofs are supported by skeletal walls while For Sale signs were on the lawns. Blue plastic is still a favorite roof color as people struggle with insurance companies and roofing contractors. Already one small insurance company has folded while the District Attorney is prosecuting fraudulent roofers. There are still large quantities of debris being picked up and some attention is being paid to clearing out the Mississippi Sound of all the debris Katrina washed into it.
For the literary minded on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the only option for bookstores is north. Waldenbooks in Edgewater mall is closed, store empty. The Books-a-Million next to Edgewater Mall is firmly closed while half of the strip mall was gutted by water surge. Meanwhile the Barnes&Nobles north of I-10 has a sign saying it will re-open in 2006. And the used bookstore just south of Gulfport airport is gutted out.
The bridge to Ocean Springs and the one to Bay St. Louis are still out. Pops Ferry bridge in Biloxi is almost repaired, which will re-open a northward hurricane evacuation route. The Ocean Springs bridge was progressing until some snags developed. Ocean Springs mayor Connie Moran, after initially supporting MDOT's 6-lane replacement bridge, is now advocating more study; this endangers the casinos coming back since this is a vital east-west traffic link and the only real by-pass is for Gautier/Ocean Springs to go north to I-10, then west until I-110 south. A bigger snag is MDOT has run out of highway funds to carry out repairs even though other projects in the state have been shut down. One of the biggest crimps in funding is the non-existence of funds from the Federal government[see following paragraph for more detailed explanation of this lack of funds]. MDOT is hoping construction will start in January 2006 instead of the planned December 2005.
Meanwhile the neighboring state to the west continues to cause trouble. It is because of Louisiana and its submitted cost of rebuilding that the Federal coffers for all the affected states slammed shut quicker than a bear trap springing on a bear. The state of Louisiana submitted a $200billion request. A state that sucked down $1.9billion in Corps of Engineer funding annually and who's budget is $18billion a year requested $200billion. Naturally Congress went from 'how can we help' to 'there need to be hearings' when among the things requested are tunnels for students to use on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, it must be noted that Baton Rouge is north of New Orleans and was not flooded but being typical greedy selfish parochial politicians the robber barons of Louisiana are trying to swindle the US government. Ray Nagin has even told people in New Orleans that they are going to be rich once the government windfall arrives.
Which leads to another problem and a glaring warning of how broke the welfare system still is. Both on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, non-reconstruction businesses are re-opening but finding workers hard to find. Service industries like fast food and oil change places on the Gulf Coast are looking for employees. The McDonald's outside Gate 7 of Keesler AFB had a mostly trainee crew. Burger King in New Orleans is offering a $6000 signing bonus along with $10/hr wages and still most franchises are under-staffed. Some of this scarcity is because the survivors are still putting their lives together and those people I have no gripes against for not going back to work yet. It is the others that I will rail against, the parasites who suck the government teat. I saw healthy young males of a certain demographic at the shelter I volunteered at not working while the older folk worked to help at the shelter or found work in the local community. Similar report comes from El Paso, TX where the older folk are getting employment while the 20-40 age group males are doing nothing.
There is one place I know of where you can see the Mississippi Sound. As you turn off Pass Road to go south past the Hobby Lobby and across the railroad tracks. This road separates Edgewater Mall from the strip mall next door that had Books-a-Million, Hagen-Daz, and other stores. Be warned two stoplights are still out on this road which means they are now four way stops. But if you persist and keep driving south, you will see a stop sign and much empty real estate in front of you. Go through the stop sign and park in the empty parking lots on either side, just watch for broken glass. I talked with several people who stopped there and they had come from other parts of the country just to see the damage wrought to an area they grew up in. The picture at the top of this post is what is left of the McDonald's that was facing Hwy 90 and the beach. It stood over twelve feet above sea level and you can see what Katrina's storm surge did. Right next to this McDonald's was a Wendy's; save for the foundation and some clumps of bricks there is nothing left of it. Further down towards the grounded remains of the Treasure Bay pirate ship casino was an O'Charley's Restaurant, all that remains of it is a foundation and its sign.
I had to snap a picture of this McDonald's just because it showed the devastating effect of the storm surge and for the flag in front. Like all of the flags that were run up after Camille telling the world that the Coast was not out and would rise again, that is what this flag tells me. Katrina may have beaten down the Gulf Coast, but the coast will rebuild once again stronger and better.