Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My Gulf Trip, Day 3

It's hard to sum up the things I saw today. After a while, you begin to forget some of the devastation you are seeing are the ruins of families and lives. We didn't have to pick out a special view this time. Every single street we saw for 50 miles looked like a complete urban war zone in Mississippi. Neighborhoods were gone.
We started off our day traveling from Mobile, Alabama to Pascagoula, Mississippi - right on the Gulf Coast. When we got there, we had trouble interpreting what we saw. Blocks after blocks of houses had trailers on the front lawns. At first glance, the houses looked pretty normal. But upon closer inspection, you could see that there was nothing inside. No walls, no furniture and no people. Instead, the families were each living in FEMA-issued trailers parked in front of the shells that used to be their homes. Block after block it was the same thing, until we got closer to the shore.
It will be hard for me to explain what we felt as we traveled the next few blocks. Gone were the yard trailers. In fact, nothing we saw in the next couple of blocks had yards at all. There were no houses, no shells. There were only piles of debris. Toilets, bathtubs and all kinds of crap were strung out everywhere. Where there were once large, beautiful homes only stood bare foundations. There weren't even any pipes remaining.
From what we were told, this area was first hit with 100+ mph winds, and then buried under 20 feet of storm surge (that's 20ft under seawater). A frame stood here and there, but there was nothing left but splinters everywhere else. Homes that had stood since the 1800's were now totally gone. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who is a Pascagoula native, lost his house in the storm. There only remained a lone flag in his yard. The other foundations were just eerie. Families who had once lived there had obviously gone back to pick up any pieces of value. There were only boards left with big spray painted names of the occupants, if anyone died and the name of the insurance company. A few families had put lawn chairs on the foundation, facing the Gulf. A few people were sitting in the chairs every once in a while. They wore sad expressions and never looked up. We didn't take pictures of them.
As we moved on, we saw a 2 mile, 4 lane concrete bridge pushed 30 feet off the foundations and toppled into the water. In fact, we saw 3 major bridges like this. Far away in the distance in Biloxi, we could see the giant river casinos leaning into the water, mostly submerged. This, with the bridge in the foreground reminded me most of what our country would look like if we ever had a major war. It was downright frightening.
As the sun went down, we made our way into New Orleans again. I'll tell you more about this tomorrow (Wednesday), but I just need to share one more thing. As we traveled along I-10 into the city, we went for 10 straight miles without seeing a single occupied home. The homes are right off the freeway and easy to see. There is no wall or barricade blocking the spectacle. What made it especially disturbing was how urban it was. This could be any city in the country. Think of any place you know, filled with thousands of homes (remember, it goes on for 10 miles). Now picture all of these homes smashed, cracked and windowless. This is what New Orleans looks like in the suburbs. There is no one left. 400,000 people are gone.
More on that later. Low-res phone pics below...

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