Sunday, August 13, 2006

2 B Read

A Year after Katrina
Once a year I travel to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for pleasure. Until last week, my last trip was in March of 2005. It's a year that will forever be engraved on the minds and hearts of those in Mississippi and New Orleans. Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. The once-beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast took the direct hit.

I first saw that distinctive coastline in 1968 -- before the devestating Hurricane Camille hit.

How wonderful it was! On one side there was an unspoiled, (I learned later) manmade beach. On the other side of Beach Boulevard were lush, broad green lawns with spreading, ancient oaks that sheltered the vernacular white houses with inviting front porches. Even after Camille, most of the wonderful old houses remained.

In the past dozen years Biloxi has established itself as a mini Las Vegas with about a dozen huge casinos and multi-story hotels to house the visitors. Even though the mushrooming of these gambling resorts affected (somewhat negatively) the uniqueness of the coast, I have to confess they were the lure for my husband and me. We loved to stay at Casino Magic hotel, which billed itself as Mississippi's first four-star hotel. I suspect Biloxi's Beau Rivage resort became the state's second four-star resort.

Sadly, Casino Magic now stands against the backdrop of green gulf waters, untouched, all its Katrina pounding still visible. No efforts made to rebuild.

Not so with Beau Rivage. At this stunning resort, a huge digital clock is counting down the minutes and seconds until its grand reopening: exactly one year after Katrina decimated the region. The casino is bringing in Tony Bennett to entertain.

Last week I was amazed to see those hundred-year-old oaks still standing even though all of the once-grand houses they sheltered were gone. It was encouraging to see that houses away from the storm's savage surge area were salvagable. All had new roofs -- and, I suspect, new interior sheetrock necessitated by flooding.

I'm glad that many of the gambling resorts are rebuilding. That -- and the revenues they bring in -- will help the gulf to rebuild. I believe I heard the the Biloxi casinos contributed (prior to Katrina) $1 million a day to the state's treasury. It might have been $1 million a week. Can't remember for sure.

But I'm unbelievably saddened over the loss of the character of Mississippi's coastline. Old homes and buildings cannot be replaced. And that's a terrible loss. It would be really sad if the Missippi coastline turns into a Gulf Shores, Alabama, coastline where passersby can't even see the gulf through the stack-'em-tall-and-deep maze of blah, multi-story boxes of condos and hotels.


JoAnn Ross said...

Cheryl, Thanks for that firsthand report. I'm back to work on the New Orleans book I shelved last Labor Day weekend, and have received most of my news and photos from bloggers who've been wonderfully generous in answering my nitpicky detail questions.

How lovely that the trees are still standing and I know exactly what you mean about the tall maze of condos and hotels! All my life growing up, we used to go to Coronado Island off San Diego before they'd even built the stunningly beautiful bridge.

During my adult years in Phoenix, since it was only a fifty minute flight, we'd splurge on about 8 weekends a year at the Hotel Del Coronado rather than take one longer vacation somewhere else. (The hotel's where they filmed Some Like It Hot and where I used to love watching the SEALs land their zodiacs on the rocks and run on the beaches during training.) Then one year suddenly there were all these concrete slabs being poured on the beach between the hotel and the SEAL training base.

In an attempt to protect the beach, the city council put a time limit on when construction could begin, so naturally the developers came in and poured all those slabs over a couple day period, which allowed them to be built, since they were technically "started" within the deadline.

The bunch of ugly concrete and glass towers that went up totally blocked everyone's view and were so horribly jarring with the old time beauty of the island. (At one time the Del was the largest wooden resort hotel in the world and it's supposed to be where the Prince of Wales met the Duchess.) Access to the beach from the street became blocked by the condos' parking gates.

My sweetie's aunt bought two condos -- one she lived in, the other she used for her kids and guests - but although we were often right next door in the hotel, I'd never go visit because it made me so sad that they'd done something so ugly and so out of character for the community. I hope the people of Mississippi fight to keep that from happening to their coastline.

Cheryl Bolen said...

Oh, JoAnn, you get it! You really get it. I am familiar with the absolutely wonderful Hotel Del Coronado. Buildings like that (and with their rich history) can never be replaced. And big concrete and steel boxes detract so much from the setting.

Which reminds me of my incredible trip last May to England's Cornwall. Upon first looking at maps I was confused that all the coastline was marked "National Trust Property." Yet there were no attractions or admissions as there were to other NT properties I'd visited in the past. Then I understood. The NT was expending a considerable fortune to buy up England's coast to prevent development. Now the cliff walks I conducted were almost the same as they were in the time of William the Conqueror.

England remains one of the world's premier tourist attractions simply because they revere the old and eschew the new. Old is good.

Sandra K. Moore said...

The dSO and I haven't gone to Florida in a while for much the same reason -- the old one-story on-the-beach motels where we used to vacation have been bought out and replaced by concrete monstrosities where "public beach access" and "beautiful ocean views" are figments of the traveler's imagination.

I'm sad to say that Clear Lake, down here in Texas, is getting its first high-rise condominium this coming year, and we're debating moving to a less-spoiled area somewhere further down the coast.

Our coastlines shouldn't be all about money. They should be about beauty and wildlife and access for all. A high-rise can have the same view from 500 yards inland.