Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tillman's Corner, Alabama to Winnie, Texas

Just one remnant of Katrina's violence: U.S. Highway 90 bridge across Biloxi Bay. Biloxi, Mississippi still looks like a city devasted by war.

9:45 PM

Winnie Inn, Winnie, Texas

$59.95 (plus tax) for this hotel, lower than the nearby big chain hotels. It feels good to patronize a locally-owned hotel. Arrived after 8:00 p.m., having ridden about 450 miles today.


In Biloxi, Mississippi, the destruction from Hurricane Katrina is unbelievable. The waterfront, with its towering casinos looks like a war zone even seven months later. Windows blasted out, drapery still fluttering in the wind, lower walls gone, revealing steel columns, and daylight on the opposite side. Some floors look like cutaways, showing interiors with slot machines still in place.

A common sight along Biloxi's beachfront: where mansions once stood, vacant lots. So many of the oaks trees withstood the storm, while countless pines were snapped in half or uprooted

Fast food restaurants were blown away, though some signs still stand, bent and shattered. Grand estates lay collapsed in heaps of rubble. Many lots have already been cleared and amidst the ancient oak trees, empty spaces where homes once stood.

High in the branches of trees, carpets, drapes and plastic remain tangled. Debris is everywhere, except in the streets, which have long since been cleared. Inland, the dense forests are littered with appliances, boats, cars and debris of all kinds. It seems the clean-up could take decades.

Biloxi, Mississippi. On most lots near the beach, not even this much was left standing.

Contractors were busy throughout Biloxi, some homes being repaired or rebuilt. One casino was back in business, drawing a modest crowd. On many structures, warnings are spray-painted. One damaged house reads "you loot, I shoot." At another: "I am home and I am armed."

Looking over the slabs of a fallen concrete bridge, where the water had evidently lifted up the sections then dropped them from their pedestals, I talked with "Jean" from Wisconsin. She owns a condominium here. They have not been allowed back into the structure since the storm. Speaking with her, I realized I have talked with so few people in recent weeks. Just those who serve me in restaurants or stores usually. It's quite different traveling in the U.S. Here, travelers are nothing unusual.

Today, with the pleasant, sunny weather, there were many people who have come to view the destruction. Groups posed by the collapsed bridge. I stopped taking photos. The destruction was too widespread for a photograph to capture any sense of its scale.

Biloxi, Mississippi

West of Biloxi, roads were still closed, and I was forced to return to Interstate 10. Jean mentioned the town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. She said it had been a quaint town filled with antique shops, but she was uncertain whether it still exists following the storm. I took a ride down to the town. Much of it seemed to be back to normal, but the antique district Jean had spoken of was indeed demolished.

Crossed Lake Pontchartrain, passing Slidell, Louisiana, another community hard-hit, and on into New Orleans. The eastern sections of the city, spread below the highway, abandoned and lifeless. Still, traffic heading into the city was heavy. And the The French Quarter was back to life, sidewalks filled with tourists, much like Key West. I wandered up and down through the neighborhoods, but never got off the bike. I was not in a festive mood.

There is an enormous crisis facing our country here. Why is this not at the top of the news every day? Rather than the plight of millions, the headlines focus on the blonde woman missing in Aruba, or the teacher charged with having sex with an under-age student. Endless coverage. We are fed such crap.

Left New Orleans, crossing a long causeway through the bayous. Reaching an outlet mall on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, I thought I'd give the Cracker Barrel restaurants another try, but at this one there was a 45-minute wait. Instead, I stopped in at the nearby Starbucks for a coffee, then continued driving.

I don't understand how people live in this soggy, humid land. I crave the arid western regions. (Just as in Buenos Aires, I longed to return to the mountains, forsaking the tropical lowlands.)

Stopping for gas at Breaux Bridge, I saw a Landry's Seafood restaurant and memories of wonderful New Orleans and Cajun seafood dishes drew me in. A big, dark interior, not much of an atmosphere. Tried their seafood gumbo. Good, but nothing special.

My over-arching observation from this journey seems to be "there are just far too many people. Our numbers and ignorance are destroying the planet." A pretty gloomy outlook indeed, yet it's difficult to come to any other conclusion. I'm unable to "sugar-coat" it, or "put on a happy face" after witnessing the same phenomena throughout this entire hemisphere.

This is my personal battle: to somehow dispel the cloud of negativity and depression born of such experience. To find another way to view the situation.

Lately, there has been little emotional energy. I'm just going through the motions, always driven on by a repulsion toward where I am.


Dicky Neely said...

Incredible devastation! I have been through several hurricanes, including one direct hit in 1970. It, too, left our area looking as if we had been bombed by an enormous super weapon!
Of course it was nothing like the scale of Katrina but it took a long time to recover.
What galls me now is that our local politicians and developers act as if hurricanes will never hit here again! They have developed the barrier islands too such an extent it has put many at risk, including the accelerated erosion of the beaches and islands.

timtraveler said...


I read you account of Hurricane Celia, 1970 at

I just can't imagine going through one of these things! It's gotta be sheer terror!

Dicky Neely said...

Terror it is!And a hurricane can go on for hours and hours. A feeling of utter helpessness.
There is a feeling of dread as it approaches and you face the unknown.
I've ben in two tornadoes as well and was incredibly fortunate to be in a house that suffered minor damage while others nearby were destroyed!

Genevieve said...

My husband went to Biloxi for about 3 weeks right after the hurricane to help with cleanup at the AF Base there, then to New Orleans for about 6 weeks. He says the devastation is beyond imagination, mile after mile after mile.

timtraveler said...

You both should be proud to have contributed to the effort. It will take many years just to fix the physical. The emotional will never be made whole.