The ocean was beckoning and beautiful as we drove east along Beach Boulevard in Biloxi, Mississippi. The world seemed bright—so long as you kept your eyes looking right.
Looking to the left, or ahead, or behind, to the small city occupying this stretch of land between the open Gulf of Mexico and a narrow river bay called Mullet Lake, the world was devastated.
In the 90 days since Hurricane Katrina, recovery had barely begun. At landfall, the storm covered the eastern half of the Gulf all the way to the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. And Biloxi was one of the hardest-hit cities. Wind gusts reaching 90 mph pummeled the area for over 17 hours as the storm surge pushed a 28-foot wall of water landward from the shore and through the inlet to the bay.
It left behind stately homes, churches, and businesses, all in ruins. As we drove through, a hand-painted sign on tattered plywood rechristened the parkway: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
We came to an area where all the buildings had been scraped off their foundations for blocks and blocks. The thrashing winds and rushing storm surge would have been bad enough. Here, a casino barge the size of a container ship had broken from its moorings and, riding the surge, flattened all of those properties like a giant rolling pin. A Vietnamese immigrant fisherman we met in another neighborhood told us about surviving the storm with his family in his boat on the bay. He nearly lost his life tending to loose lines on the violently shifting deck. He saw people drown.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity. My conversation with the fisherman was a time to listen. My time in Biloxi was a time to help plan for the recovery. Maybe now, more than ...
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