I arrived in Long Beach, Mississippi a little earlier than I expected. John and Jo, my hosts and local experts, were not home yet. Which allowed me to follow my nose and explore the barren landscape on my own.
Some 35,000 people lost their homes along this coast line, and up ahead I can see the beach.. or what is left of it. Mostly all I see is the extremely bright white sand that looks like it was just dropped off there to pretend to be a beach, and the ocean which is right there looking like any minute it will swallow everything in its path, yet again.
While it has been a year and a half, not much has been rebuilt along the shoreline. No one would dare to, I guess. On the other hand many of those families are still waiting to see if they can get some insurance money or funding from one of the designated sources. And beyond that, I hear that many have already picked up and moved inland… a mass exodus away from the ocean that helped to erase the homes they had known and loved.
I head towards the beach drive, which seems like it should be pretty as it follows the coast for as far as the eye can see. Lots and lots of beach.
However beautiful is not the word that came to mind. Baghdad is actually what came to mind, especially when I got to the two street lights that had been destroyed and left only the aluminium polls hanging over the street, looking like the two swords that hover over that main Boulevard in Baghdad.
Interesting comparison.. the gulf coast and iraq. Oddly enough more members of the Mississippi national guard have probably worked in Baghdad than in Long Beach. More money goes to the Iraqi government and the occupation effort than to the rebuilding effort. Fortunately for Iraqi’s, they didn’t have to deal with insurance companies that pretended they were there for the community and then refused to pay for the damages caused by Katrina. Then again, in Long Beach there are no troops going door to door searching houses and there’s no danger of suicide bombers, that I know of.
Eventually I got over the comparisons in my head and just focused on understanding the environment around me. Driveways leading up a hill… to nowhere. No houses, just slabs, or more ghastly.. the pillars.. white pillars which once held up a house, now looking for like the ruins of some destroyed Greek villa. Scraps of clothes, and other assorted person items can still be seen in a few trees and on the ground, the majority I later see in photos, having been cleaned up by the army corps of engineers.
After seeing all this and feeling like some stranger trampling a sacred burial ground, I went back to John and Jo’s. Sure enough, they were home… and that’s when the real learning process began… starting with how things went, day one after the storm.