It is hard to believe that the 8th anniversary of hurricane Katrina is here. Those of us who experienced Katrina and lived to tell the tale have much to be thankful for. Many of us lost everything, many lost their lives, and non of us will never be the same. It was a life changing moment in time yet we discovered we were stronger and more resourceful than anyone could have imagined. We learned how to survive during the most dire of circumstances. We reached out to one another with love and compassion and everyone truly cared about their fellow man. We discovered that the value of personal possessions means very little in the grand scheme of things and that faith means everything.
As horrific as Katrina was and as deep as the scars will forever be, there was actually a silver lining to the monster storm of 2005. The advancements and beautification are evident up and down the entire coastline. Cities are still healing, repairing and rebuilding but they are coming back bigger and better than before. Our leaders have done their utmost to restore our beloved Mississippi Gulf Coast and they deserve our thanks. Tremendous progress has been made and there is great of optimism for the future.
Ocean Springs Mayor, Connie Moran, had this to say. “The grant money we received during the recovery period allowed us to rebuild our coastal towns in ways we never could have imagined. Each of our communities were given expert assistance from professional urban planners. Ocean Springs had numerous public forums so we could get input from our public. They wanted a more connected and walk-able community linking commercial and residential areas downtown with more green space and parks and we built exactly what our residents wanted.” Ocean Springs just received the 2013 Great American Main Street Award from the American Main Street Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ocean Springs was one of only three communities to be recognized nationwide. “All our civic organizations came together with our citizens and added to the city’s efforts. In 2007 our citizens voted in a referendum to place a levy on restaurants and lounges in order to build a brand new public safety facility, sports complex and an enlarged tennis complex and pavilion. Those projects have also won state wide awards,” Mayor Moran said.
The beautiful Biloxi Bay Bridge would not have been built had it not been for hurricane Katrina. Thanks to Mayor Moran, the bridge is complete with a lighted pedestrian walking path. It is a favorite exercise route and on any given day it is enjoyed by individuals and families who are out for a leisurely stroll or a serious work out. The bridge connects to a new walkway on Front Beach and extends all the way to the harbor. Brick fire pits and picnic tables as well as showers are the amenities available which created a special destination of fun and relaxation. The space received the statewide award of Excellence from the Mississippi Municipal League. “We have been very successful in being recognized throughout the state as well as nationally for our efforts. For a small community we have quite a bit to show for our rebuilding effort since Katrina,” Mayor Moran said. Ocean Springs is a historic Arts community with over one hundred restaurants, art galleries and unique shops. “There is plenty more to do. Right now we are forming a Gulf Coast Mayor’s Council so that all of the coast cities can unite in an effort to keep a lid on insurance premiums, improve public transportation, and increase tourism and the quality of life coast wide,” she said.
Pass Christian Mayor, Chip McDermott, saw his beloved city almost completely wiped off the map when Katrina slammed into South Mississippi. He witnessed incredible suffering and unbelievable hardships throughout his community but the people united and stood strong. Mayor McDermott exemplifies courage and strength. “I found out how good the American people are and that was the greatest thing for me. People from all over the country supported us and helped in every way they could. We are this tiny place, 6 miles long and one mile wide, but we became 50 states long and 50 states wide. We made life long friendships with people all over the United States and we couldn’t have made it without them,” Mayor McDermott said.
Almost 2/3rds of Pass Christian has had infrastructure replacement. “The most coveted property on the coast, City Drive, which was Hwy 90 until 1951, was 10 feet deep in oyster shells and the pipes under the ground were cast iron, a completely antiquated system. Now we have PVC pipes throughout and a map was drawn up that shows where everything is and documentation proving all the work that was done. The new infrastructure (sewer and water lines) was the best gift that we got because we needed this so badly and could not have afforded it on our own, “ Mayor McDermott said. Pass Christian also has a brand new, 24 thousand square foot, six million dollar city complex consisting of the City Hall, Courthouse, and Library. The streets of the charming little city are now adorned with decorative lighting as well. “The American tax payers were so good to us and I am so grateful however I never want to experience anything like this again,” Mayor McDermott said in closing.
Public Information Officer for the City of Gulfport, Chris Vignes, was very pleased to have an opportunity to weigh in about the way his city has healed and been revitalized since hurricane Katrina. Downtown Gulfport completed the largest facade grant program in the history of the United States. Historical buildings are once again occupied and businesses are thriving. The area has become the destination of choice for exciting nightlife and non stop fun. When the sun goes down, this is the place to be. The streets are lined with extraordinary restaurants and great little bars and lounges. You can dine on some of the best seafood on the Coast, enjoy the most imaginative cocktails, craft beers and spirits, and dance the night away with live music on any given night.
Directly across the street on Hwy 90, is the pride and joy of Gulfport. Jones Park is the largest beachfront park on the Gulf Coast. Katrina left very little behind in her wake, the entire property was destroyed and completely unrecognizable. Today, Jones Park is nothing short of spectacular. The design was inspired by active and well-loved harbors from around the world and it is the premiere outdoor recreational destination of the Coast.
Vincent Creel, Public Affairs Manager for Biloxi, felt that there were a number of silver linings for his city. The beautiful new Biloxi Visitors Center is a true showplace with state-of-the-art multimedia exhibits. In addition, guests can enjoy the new Biloxi Civic Center and the library. “We actually took eight buildings and merged them into three. This saves money on heating and cooling, as well as insurance costs and day to day janitorial expenses,” Creel said. A new Seafood Industry museum is under construction on Point Cadet. It will be a wonderful educational destination for all ages. The Biloxi Bay Bridge is also a huge draw. Creel is in complete agreement with Mayor Connie Moran as to the beauty and function of this graceful structure. “Every day people walk across the bridge and are also enjoying the new water front park,” Creel said. Many of the broken and severely injured oaks that once proudly stood along Hwy 90 before Katrina have been given new life. One-of-a-kind sculptures of fish, birds, and wildlife indicative to the coast, have been carved into the tree trunks. The sculptures are extraordinary and make for wonderful photo ops all along the beach.
City programs have been resurrecting such as “Thursdays in May,” which pays tribute to the historic events and leaders of Biloxi from a bygone era. High school and local community theater actors portray individuals such as George Ohr, the Mad Potter of Biloxi. The actors research their subjects and come dressed in period costumes as they tell the story of the many colorful characters who helped shape the city. “These are things we cherish so much more today because of all we lost during hurricane Katrina. It is a new found appreciation for our Lord, our families and our friends…our lives. We found that material things don’t matter, they are so unimportant,” Creel said.
The spirit of camaraderie during the days, weeks and months after Katrina have continued but there are challenges. Biloxi still has many vacant lots along the waterfront. Streets continue to be in disrepair which has been a painful and arduous process that seems never ending. Biloxi has been trying to do this work in 5 to 7 years but it would normally take a full 25 years to complete. This is a monumental undertaking and cannot not be rushed. Vincent Creel said, “I am in awe that people from all over the country, and even folks from other parts of the world, continue to check on us down here and continue to come and stay since Katrina. We believe that our best days are ahead of us. We are strong and determined people who have proven that we can overcome whatever happens, as our ancestors did before us. As William Faulkner said, ‘we didn’t just endure, we prevailed.’