By Grant McGee: Local columnist
Vacation time was coming to a close. It was time to leave Florida and trek back to Clovis.
I need to tell you about what we saw on our way back along the Gulf Coast. The media can’t properly convey the widespread destruction rendered by last year’s hurricanes. Seen up close and personal it left me almost speechless.
The heavy footprints of Katrina and Rita as well as other super-storms could be seen from west Florida to east Texas: damaged roofs covered with blue plastic sheets, piles of wreckage waiting to be picked up, pine forests full of twisted and downed trees. Giant metal billboard frames, empty and twisted, stood by the interstate as a silent statement that something big, bad and powerful had happened.
We thought the long bridge carrying Interstate 10 over Escambia Bay near Pensacola had been hit by Katrina, but the damage had come from 2004’s Hurricane Ivan. The storm surge had pushed some sections of the twin bridges into the water. Traffic was reduced to one lane and the speed set at 25 mph. As we crossed, The Lady of the House looked outside then turned to me with eyes wide open. “This is a temporary bridge!” she blurted.
“Yeah, so?” I said.
“What if we fall into the bay?”
“Then I grab your hand and we go out through the sun roof,” whereupon to ease her anxiety I opened the sun roof of the car.
“But a big chunk of metal could hit us on the head.”
“Then it’s ‘check-out’ time,” I said as we toodled along with everyone else on the bridge. The Lady of the House was not amused.
Then there was Biloxi, Miss.
Biloxi was one of those gems of the American Gulf Coast; homes, hotels, nightclubs, tourist shops, beautiful beaches and more. Notice I wrote “was” one of those gems. It will be a long time before Biloxi returns to the way things were before Hurricane Katrina.
I was dumbstruck by Biloxi. We drove on U.S. 90, the route that runs along the Gulf of Mexico. For about 30 minutes, all I could say was, “I can’t believe this.”
When it comes to Biloxi and Katrina, scientists and meteorologists will use such terms as “storm surge” and “category 5 winds.” But to the eye of the “Everyday Joe,” the entire beachfront of Biloxi and its nearby communities looks like it was hit by an atom bomb.
Here it was, months after the hurricane and the utter destruction was all along the coast — hotels with sides sheared off, curtains waving in the breeze; furniture, beds, lamps still in place. Palatial Southern homes had walls and rooms missing; a grand staircase was standing by itself on a foundation. Spray-painted warnings were on ruined homes: “WE’RE HOME. YOU LOOT, WE SHOOT.”
There were empty foundations. Everywhere there was shredded wood, shredded signs, shredded buildings and shredded metal.
Signs dotted the beaches proclaiming them closed — no doubt due to debris still being out there. Whole trees could be seen poking above the surf. Who knew what else was out there. Work crews were everywhere still clearing, some rebuilding.
We came to our turnoff and headed north to get back on the interstate and go home.
Next week I’ll tell you about a Buddhist monk, a drunken waitress and a Piggly Wiggly on the journey back to Clovis.
Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: