"The Invisible Coast." That's what one Mississippi newspaper bitterly calls the state's Gulf of Mexico counties, which Hurricane Katrina mutilated eight months ago. They're invisible to the media spotlight that has bathed shattered New Orleans to the west.
In Mississippi alone, asserts the Sun Herald newspaper, Katrina wrought "the single greatest natural disaster in 229 years of American history." Greater than a killer 1899 flood that swamped Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Greater than the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Greater than another monster hurricane, Betsy, that so pulverized the Mississippi coastline in 1965 that it is called "Billion-Dollar Betsy" today.
Howling out of the Gulf late last August, Katrina ravaged 65,000 Mississippi shoreline homes, strewed boats into trees, hurled mammoth offshore casinos onto the beach and reduced restaurants and churches and kiddie carousels to splinters and shards. Two massive U.S. Highway 90 bridges connecting coastal communities are now gnarled chunks of submerged concrete. Whole towns like Waveland, once home to 5,000 people, are simply gone.
Yet Mississippi's sandy beaches look untouched, inviting -- not that another summer's sunbathers will have many places to stay. As of three weeks ago, there was but one open, sand-strewn motel. When beachgoers look up the hill from the sea, they'll behold, by one estimate, 34 million cubic meters of debris. But they'll see construction cranes, too, as proud Mississippians resolutely rebuild their seaside playland. Still, the gentle Gulf breeze seems to whisper a prayer in advance of another storm season: "Please, not here. Not again."