Guest Blog by Margie Kieper
I'm seeing the word recovery a lot. And this brings many things to mind, many conflicting things, and of course still a lot of different emotions. Yes you do move on, if you can find a way, and yes, there has been some recovery, but it is very uneven. Still, you can't forget the ways that life has changed along the coast where the surge wiped away civilization two years ago. Today, everything is more expensive: food, gas, rent or homeowner's insurance. But there is virtually no rental housing available on the coast, two years later. High insurance and building costs have prevented construction of rental units.
I would have to say the single largest failure that has crippled recovery is the failure of the insurance industry -- first, the failure to pay on existing insurance policies, and then, raising policy rates to insanely high levels, leading to huge profits in 2006, and preventing rebuilding from commencing. Two years later, the coastal highway in Mississippi, Hwy 90, has the look of a ghost town along most of its length, because businesses, churches, and residences cannot be rebuilt. Industries can't find enough workers, because there aren't any places for people to live, because homes and apartments can't be built. I think there has to be a fundamental change in home ownership that completely jettisons the insurance industry, as insurance is basically no longer worth anything, and this will probably mean finding ways to build homes without bank financing.
Things are tough, but coastal communities are toughing it out and surviving. Communities have been in these locations for at least 300 years, and they will still be there, even if another 500-year storm hits fifty years from now -- or next month.
There are a couple of things that still I wish, two years later, would get more attention. First is the lack of awareness of how large a section of coastline in LA, MS, and AL received record storm surge. This time last year, I was in the middle of writing about this:
I do receive comments from people every so often that have read it for the first time, and usually they express surprise and were generally unaware of the extent of the surge, or they experienced it and they have some interesting information about the surge to share. I'd like to post an example. This one is from a Captain in the US Coast Guard:
Hello. I just came across your survey of storm surge on the Mississippi Coast from Katrina. I was very gratified and interested. I used to live on Waveland Ave. The steel framed house with the pointy top was right around the corner from my house. I thought it was a very telling gauge of water height, too. I'm in the Coast Guard and was able to get back there rather quickly after the storm. I went through Camille about a block from the Sound on Sycamore Street. I went back to find that house after Katrina and it was completely gone. That told me a lot. The devastation was amazing. I was particularly taken by the damage to trees. A friend of mine work for Bell South. He was on the I-10 bridge at 603, which is about 10 miles inland. The water was up to the overpass. He said after the storm passed and the wind changed, it looked like a white water river going South. He said when you looked South from there, all you could see was water and the tops of pine trees.
My father went through Camile in Long Beach and lost everything. He returned and built a steel reinforced concrete house. You probably saw it. It had a scalloped roofline. I was right next to where the Wal Mart used to be. It was the only thing standing. I wish he were still alive to know it worked.
Anyway, thank so much for your documentation. It means a lot that you did this. You are right about the coast being invisible. We were not as tragic as New Orleans.
By the way, in Mobile, I had fifteen feet at my Base. I should send you a picture.
Regarding, "when you looked South from there, all you could see was water and the tops of pine trees," this is referring to the entire southern portion of Hancock County south of I-10, including the cities of Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Lakeshore, and others, and, on the other side of the bay, in Harrison County, Pass Christian, all being completely underwater. To drive to the beach from this exit on I-10 takes about twenty to twenty-five minutes.
A resident of Plaquemines Parish emailed me a link to this wonderful website that has been documenting Katrina's effects, and ongoing recovery:
The second thing that I wish would become commonplace knowledge among coastal residents is how vulnerable their home is to storm surge. Know what category of hurricane can flood your home. If you live right on the coast, it is likely a Cat 1 or Cat 2.
If you live in Florida, then FloridaDisaster.Org provides storm surge maps for coastal counties, here. These maps are difficult to find from the main public web page, and the link I provided has moved to the bottom of the page.
If you are in Mississippi, you have an even better resource for storm surge, the USACE Hurricane Evacuation Study maps. For instance, this map shows how quite a bit of my hometown, Pascagoula, will flood in a direct hit from a Cat 2 hurricane. These very detailed maps are the result of a 2001 HES study that used over 3000 SLOSH runs to get a worst case scenario for the entire Mississippi coast.
Amazingly, these maps were not used or known about by emergency personnel or local media during Katrina. And even today they are not on the MS EMA web site (but then, there is practically nothing of use on that web site). There was a very good correlation between the actual surge that occurred from Katrina, and these worst-case surge maps. I would like to see these maps printed out and posted on the walls of shopping malls, city hall, auditoriums -- and mailed to every resident, posted on every media website, and shown on the news regularly. Everyone should know under what conditions their home will flood, and whether their escape routes will flood -- and that can happen before your home is at risk.
Finally, today, I thought about my own personal experience two years ago, and how Katrina changed my life. And I suspect that many, many people have been thinking those same kind of thoughts today.