Monday, April 23, 2012

Seven years later in Biloxi/Gulfport

The last time I'd seen Biloxi and Gulfport they looked like a war zone.
It was one week after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the region in 2005.
A team of us had volunteered to drive a fleet of small RVs to our sister paper, the Sun Herald, which had suffered immensely along with its community.
The difference seven years later was so striking as my wife and I spent three days-plus on vacation.
Casinos repaired.
Homes rebuilt.
Businesses back.
But not all of them.
There were more concrete slabs along Highway US 90 that runs along the beach than I could count.
They were like grave markers of places that never came back.
Antebellum mansions.
Modest family homes.
Mom & Pop restaurants.
Small hotels.
Souvenir shops.
The sheer financial losses, coupled with the prohibitive cost of property insurance post-Katrina and a daunting list of other costs have made it impossible for people to return.
We had lunch with one of my wife's former banking colleagues who stunned us with the living costs she deals with.
License fee? $800.
Property taxes? $3,000.
Homeowners insurance? $8,000.
And this person lives north of I-10.
We cannot imagine what folks must pay south of the interstate, closer to the beach.
Aaah, but that beach.
It was beautiful and inviting, just miles and miles of it going west toward Long Beach, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis.
We are definitely bringing beach chairs the next time we go back.
We will go back, too.
The scars left by Katrina didn't diminish our enjoyment or appreciation of the local hospitality.
A friendly, attentive waitress.
A shop owner offering us sweet tea or lemonade.
A resident graciously giving us directions.
Sounds a little like Bradenton, doesn't it?
Well, that Southern Mississippi hospitality -- the resilience, too -- made for a memorable trip and we look forward to doing it again.

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