Hurricane Katrina (part 2)

Hurricane Katrina (part 2)
The remains of the Penthouse condominiums in Pass Christian, Mississippi

This blog post contains photos I took when Megan and I returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in late September 2005. Our trip to the area two weeks earlier is covered in Hurricane Katrina (part 1).

On our first trip to Gulfport right after the hurricane, we were mostly focused on getting access to Marsha, Granny, and Gloria's homes to recover whatever we could. On this second trip, we took some time to just explore the area around Pass Christian and see firsthand the impact of Katrina. We also went with Melba to check on her mother's grave in the cemetery on Church Street in Pass Christian, and I took Gloria back to her apartment in Waveland for a final visit before it would be demolished.

The Hurricane Katrina (part 1) blog post was organized in chronological order, but this post is organized by topic. All of these photos were taken between September 23-26, 2005.

The only photo I took on Friday 9/23 on the way back to Gulfport: an ad for a Gulf Coast casino at the Atlanta airport.
Three photos of the same flag on the side of a building in Long Beach, on September 4, 23, and 26.

The storm surge crested at 24 feet in Pass Christian, but both of the photos above were taken inland from the shore. Left: the FEMA high-water mark on the Miramar Nursing Home in Pass Christian, where Aunt Hazel lived. (She had been evacuated to Florida, although it took a while for us to find out where she went because the residents were divided up among several locations.) Right: me standing by some trees about 330 yards inland in east Pass Christian. Debris riding on the storm surge had rubbed the bark off the trees well above my head.

I realized while standing in front of the wreckage of the Penthouse Condos that the debris had been sorted by weight. Cars from the parking lot were still up front, closest to the shore, then came the bathtubs, then AC units and appliances, then smaller stuff scattered far inland.

One man refused to evacuate and died here, but everyone else got out. And the plumber who mounted that toilet should take a bow!

The guy in the white pickup above was a Mississippi Department of Transportation employee named Mike, and he was with a crew that was pumping out the storm sewers along Beach Boulevard. He told me they had found two 9-foot alligators and one 12-foot alligator in the storm sewers in Gulfport so far, in addition to many smaller ones.

I spoke to officers from Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and Indiana, and saw many other states represented as well. They were in squad cars, on foot, riding horses, or on ATVs. In Gulfport it was mostly National Guard troops at checkpoints, and in Pass Christian mostly sheriffs on horseback. We heard that the worst looting in the area was around Bay St. Louis, probably because there were expensive neighborhoods there with homes that were totally destroyed and their contents scattered great distances. We noticed that the soldiers and cops at Bay St. Louis checkpoints kept their rifles in their hands, but over in Pass Christian and Gulfport we never saw them holding weapons.

I had been planning to search Gloria's back bedroom on this visit, because we had only searched the front bedroom and living room on our previous visit. But it was such a rotting stinking mess by now, after baking in the heat for two weeks, that we decided to skip that.

Gloria recovered a couple of house plants, and spoke to a neighbor who was there to search for the bird cage of Chiquita, an elderly neighbor with Alzheimer's who was still missing. Chiquita's apartment had "dead female" spray-painted on the window the day after the hurricane, but later the window was broken out and it wasn't clear whether there had been a body recovered or not. The neighbor woman had been trying to get an answer from the coroner's office, and they thought they had the body but then it turned out to not have Chiquita's surgery scars so it was somebody else.

Chiquita's sister said that she wouldn't have evacuated without her bird, so the woman above returned to search for the bird cage in the wreckage. If the bird cage was gone, then maybe Chiquita and her bird had been evacuated by someone.

I tried to kick down the front door for her, but there was too much stuff behind it and it wouldn't budge, so she went in through a broken window instead. She was looking through Chiquita's apartment for the bird cage when we left. We don't know whether she ever found it.

The last two photos above are two of the only houses that close to the water that remained standing after the surge. A cop told me that the last house had been designed to withstand winds of up to 300 mph, and that the owners intended to rebuild. (300 mph is higher than has ever been recorded for a hurricane - Katrina's winds were about 140 mph when it made landfall.)

Greg Campbell (pictured above) and his family of six rode out the storm while standing in water flowing through the second floor, and they all survived. During the storm, the nearby Harbour Oaks Inn disintegrated, and owners Diane and Tony Brugger were swept away. They clung to an oak tree (in the background of the third photo) as the storm raged, but Tony lost his grip and drowned. Greg then worked with others to rescue Diane from the tree and get her back into his house.

The only thing left from the Harbour Oaks Inn was the front steps, and the fourth photo shows the plaque Diane left there in memory of Tony. By the time I was there three weeks later, Diane had moved to St. Louis.

On our final afternoon with Melba, we visited the site of Gloria's grandson Lyndon's house in Pass Christian.

Lyndon's family had been evacuated to Montgomery, and when he came back two days after Katrina only the slab of the foundation remained, so he assumed that their dog (who they hadn't been able to take with them) had perished. But when Lyndon returned again on September 17 β€” 19 days after the hurricane β€” the dog had returned home, and was hungry and thirsty but still alive. They brought the dog to Montgomery, where it got a hot bath and a good meal, and as Lyndon told me, "made a four year old girl as happy as if it were Christmas."

Looking south into the Gulf of Mexico from downtown Pass Christian on a morning a month after Katrina. This was my final photo of Pass Christian before we headed home. We've been back to the Pass several times since, and many things have been rebuilt, but nearly 20 years later Pass Christian is still slowly recovering, with many vacant lots where homes and businesses once stood. Pass Christian has the distinction of having been in the direct path of the two most powerful hurricanes in recorded history to hit North America: Camille in 1969, and Katrina in 2005.