December 14, 2005,
Waveland, Miss. Hugh Lemoine, a Mandeville, La., construction supplier, recently returned to the ruins of his beach house here on eerily named Waveland Avenue. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina's waves, in fact, his roof now sits just north of where it recently balanced atop his home. The house's foundation has been swept completely clean, save for two commodes that hung on for dear life as the bathroom around each one dissolved.
"The wave went in seven miles," Lemoine says, still in awe. "Right here, it was 33 feet high."
"These are someone else's," he shrugs.
When Katrina demolished it on August 29, the home Lemoine built with his wife for their retirement was just five weeks old.
More than three months since America's most destructive natural disaster lashed this region, this randomly selected street still resembles Hell on Earth. After the fourth, fifth, and sixth months since Katrina have come and gone, and fresh crises demand the nation's attention, Waveland Avenue's property owners and their neighbors throughout much of the Central time zone's coast still will need empathy and support. Among the roughly 7,000 who called Waveland home, the Biloxi Sun-Herald reckons that 6,000 still are exiled. The storm pulverized some 60 percent of local buildings.
In this part of town, just east of the Lemoines, another roof sprawls along the soil. Across it, someone spray painted this graffito: "Thanks 4 nothing Katrina U bitch!"
Steps away, there is little evidence that a home ever rose at the southeast corner of Waveland Avenue and Fell Street. Uprooted and twisted trees encircle the lot, but nothing remains of a house that stood nearby until that dismal Monday morning. A few champagne glasses lie on the dried muck. A walker is turned over on its side. A lonely metal cane with small rubber feet stands at attention, as if dutifully awaiting its owner's return. A wheelchair is splattered with mud, yet festooned with washed-up but still-colorful Mardi Gras beads.
Even worse than the much-lamented and severe devastation in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward where most of the damaged structures are identifiable as one-time houses along the Gulf of Mexico, countless concrete slabs offer rare clues that something once existed here. The New York Post accurately called the notorious storm surge and its aftermath "Our Tsunami."
A swimming pool next to one foundation gags on tree branches, chain-link fencing, a rubber tire, rocks, a fallen power line, a beach chair, and nasty green water.
A Mediacom employee named Dave had a house about three doors from the beach. All that remains are the pilings on which it stood.
Katrina snatched his cable-TV maintenance truck, sailed it over his lawn, and slam-dunked it into the ground. The truck's back tires are wedged about halfway into the soil. Its cab is bashed in.
As Dave gets reestablished ("rebuilding is cheap," he says), he sleeps in a blue tent pitched among his pilings. Seemingly in honor of the Yuletide, he has propped beside one of them a small wooden soldier, like those in The Nutcracker Suite.
He says the surge that struck Waveland was even higher when measured by buoys in the Gulf 48 feet, by one estimate. Here, it was tall enough to topple scores of trees in every direction. Many of those that were not snapped in two are dead, thanks to exposure to saltwater. Now that they are salinated, he thinks they would be inadequate even for pulping into paper.
"They're pine, so they're no good for firewood," Dave says, "but they have to come down." These trees appear to be a total loss. This problem, like so many others, stretches past the Alabama state line to the east and, thanks to both Katrina and Hurricane Rita, spans west to the Texas border. So do the collapsed walls, crushed roofs, and shattered lives.
These circumstances make the mundane extraordinary. Heading north toward Highway 90, a man occupies a chair on his slab, about three blocks inland from the beach. He is surrounded by nothing. His face is covered with lather. He shaves in the open air, like a soldier beside a battlefield.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.