Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Tuesday, August 29

Sounds, Sights of Building, Rebuilding Refresh Our Spirit

By the afternoon of Aug. 29, 2005, it was clear the Mississippi Coast had been obliterated. Thousands of structures had been washed away in the great surge that destroyed so many homes, businesses, landmarks, personal treasures and lives.
But Hurricane Katrina did not destroy the hopes, dreams, memories or the will to survive that has sustained coastal Mississippians through the centuries.

Despite total devastation - the worst natural disaster in American history - no one, at least no one who knew these Mississippians, doubted they would rebuild and in time triumph, even in the face of Katrina's terrible toll.

Twelve months later remarkable progress has been made, yet there is so much to do... literally years of toil ahead.Still you know it will be done. Much like these first 365, it is being done one day at a time, with methodical precision and through the power of backbone and bootstrap, and with the helping hands of a generous nation and world.

For millennia people have been coming down to the bountiful waters of the Mississippi Sound and the tranquil bays, bayous and rivers of the Coast. They are drawn to the wondrous beauty, and the sustenance for life found there - fish, shrimp and oysters - in quantity and quality found in few places.

They have had a good life at water's edge, and the cycle of life on its shore has been enjoyable, though tenuous.

Katrina was not the first, nor will she be the last, of the hurricanes to visit here. They are a part of our very existence, in a season each year whose beginning and end are never far from our conscious thought, even if they sometimes do not occur for decades, such as the period between 1916 and 1947 when there were none.

Now, we are told by the experts, the earth is in a cycle in which numerous storms are expected each year. We would not challenge that theory after the last two years, when we have seen them come in rapid succession. Time and time again we were in the so-called cone of uncertainty, which required a constant alertness to the possibility of destruction.
It takes a special people - people who never say die; people who will not be defeated - to live in the shadow of such uncertainty. They are best called "survivors," for staying on and rebuilding is in the DNA of such people.

Each generation, it seems, is tested by the great storms. If one generation would simply walk away from the danger there would be only sand and silence here. Yet the human footprint remains a part of the Mississippi Coast, because these are survivors.

Some of the most-damaging storms ever have struck this Coast hard, yet there was never a thought of not rebuilding.

After Camille it would have been easier to leave or quit than it was to stay and fight again on these shores.

So there is a chain of generations, one linked to the other through the ages by example of rebuilding. Grandparents did it, parents did it, so now, after Katrina, it will be done again. There was no debate about that.

People's toughness and strength were never doubted, but the stories of courage, heroism and selflessness that flow through the history books under the chapter dated Aug. 29, 2005 are the stuff of legend. They will become the lore of this generation and will be given to the next as an inheritance of riches collectively owned by South Mississippians. It is not riches of wealth, but of self-worth and self confidence.

But of course this story of survival did not end Aug. 29; that was just the beginning of this saga. Just because a person or a family was still standing at the end of the day Katrina came ashore did not mean they would survive the first week, month or year.

The immediate obstacles were extraordinary. Food, shelter and medical supplies were not to be had, and the heat of the next weeks was overwhelming. Getting through that period was the sprint, the short race; the marathon would follow.

Once the matter of survival in the immediate sense was fought for and won, then came the long fight, which for many, continues.

The battles over insurance, and or gaining a FEMA trailer, and then the long, stifling existence in such confinement, would test the most hardy.

In some ways the battles of the spirit have been more challenging than those of the flesh. The setbacks have been many and often it seemed there have been as many steps backward as forward.

Yet they continue, these survivors, each finding happiness and encouragement in their own victories and the victories of others.

The greening of the great oaks was a thrilling sight, and the glorious crops of sunflowers and crape myrtles have been a sign of renewal.

The waters still produce their fruit and generations renew the ritual of families bringing home a supper of mullet or trout. The crabs and shrimp and oysters are a respite from the Spam and peanut butter sandwiches of the earliest days.

The spirit of the Coast is refreshed by the sound and sights of building and rebuilding. There is a welcome crop of new homes all around us, though with a different look - one that pays homage to the great surge. The thud of hammers and the electric hum of drills and saws is the music of progress.

But no sound is more thrilling than those cries of the "Katrina babies" who have been a blessing of these days, coming forth into a world that changed so much on that awful late-August day. They know no other world and are content with the life and legacy given them by their survivor families. They are the firstborns of the new era, and they will inherit that spirit and build a future Coast we can only imagine.

Life, death and hurricanes are certainties of existence on the Mississippi Coast. So, too, is the notion of surviving against odds that may seem to some too great to comprehend. But not here - not ever.

The Sun Herald


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