I once again find myself sitting on a plane on my way back from a magical time with my girlfriend, Nena and feeling a bit sad. For the past 2 weeks I have been in Ocean Springs, South Mississippi. I was apprehensive about visiting the region after such destruction 6 months earlier by Hurricane Katrina but being in the arms of my girlfriend negated any hesitance on my part.
So what did we do? Well yes, we done that! I caught the ‘Katrina Cough’! We visited the carnage the tidal surge inflicted along the many miles of coast in South Mississippi – in particular Gulfport-Biloxi. We visited an eerie post-Katrina New Orleans with 800,000 people still to return. Hell, I even saw a crocodile that wasn’t in captivity! But most of all Nena and myself spent precious time together.
They say the best way to get over the blues of a holiday being over is to start planning the next one. So only 6 months to go until the next! In the mean time here is a roundup of notable moments from the trip I took from Saturday March 4th through Saturday March 18th.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Here I Come!
Getting up at 3am to catch a flight could have been so much easier had I stuck to my original plan – in bed by 8pm! I hadn’t packed until the last minute (nothing new there!) which subsequently lead to me being in bed at 11.30pm. Anyway, after a 2 hour drive to Gatwick airport (thanks brother!) and checking in at Delta airlines and getting the duty free, I was ready for 8½ hour flight to Atlanta.
The flight to Atlanta, as you would expect when travelling economy, was cramped, had crap food,
but at least there was free alcohol, scrub that, Delta now charge $5 per beer! Bugger! The flight itself was very smooth.
Once the plane touched down in Atlanta it was time to clear immigration and customs. The U.S. has now introduced strict border controls that require your fingerprints (left and right index finger) and having your picture taken. With 6½ months left on my passport and my passport photo bearing no resemblance to the aged old troll holding it, I thought a full body and cavity search was awaiting me at the very least, but once my paranoia passed the process was actually much quicker than I expected and for once I had an immigration official who was human and cracked a joke with me.
After a short internal flight to Mobile, Alabama I was able to hug and kiss my girlfriend instead of the daily ‘I miss you so much!’ calls across the Atlantic! I won’t fill you in on the sentimental stuff; suffice to say we were pleased to see each other!
We drove the 60 minutes to her hometown of Ocean Springs in Mississippi, after a day that involved 20 hours without sleep it was nice to finally arrive at my final destination and relax with the girlfriend.
The Katrina Cough
When I left the England I was in tip-top condition but within a day of being in Ocean Springs I was developing what I took to be the classic symptoms of the common cold: aches, slightly sore throat and runny nose and didn’t give it a second thought. I mentioned this to Nena and she said I had what the locals named ‘The Katrina Cough’. As the week went on I got progressively worse and with the six hour jet-lag felt very ill.
Some patients have started having symptoms just after driving through some of the affected areas.
The Katrina Cough is a little worrisome, it is believed to be attributed mainly to the mold and contaminated dust left behind by the floodwaters that have been stirred up by cleanup and demolition work after Hurricane Katrina along with debris burning that is currently smothering the coast of Mississippi. There are suggestions that it is popping up regularly among people who have returned to storm-ravaged areas, particularly Mississippi Coast and New Orleans. In scouring the web some hospitals reported at least a 25% increase in complaints regarding sinus headaches, congestion, runny noses, sore throats and respiratory problems since Katrina.
One official commented: ‘People who are actually going into the destroyed residences are having a more severe time of it, But I’ve also seen some patients who have not actually engaged in that but have started having symptoms just after driving through some of the affected areas.’
After a course of antibiotics it cleared up but I retained the cough itself for the remainder of the trip!
Guys, I Only Want A Chicken Sandwich With Salad!
Choice – when ordering fast food in England – is very simple, there isn’t any, unless ‘Do you want chilli with that?’ counts! In America choice can be overwhelming when ordering even the most basic of snacks, like a sandwich.
For example, I went into Subway for lunch. I ordered from the set menu a simple 6″ chicken breast sub (baguette sandwich to you and me). Simple I thought. What choices could there possibly be? Actually a lot more than I was prepared for: What bread would you like – Italian, wheat, honey oat, Italian herbs & cheese, or deli-style roll?
What toppings – cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, green peppers, olives, red onion, cucumber, hot peppers, bacon, salt & pepper? What dressing – Oil, vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise light mayonnaise, Chipotle South West sauce, sweet onion sauce, honey mustard sauce or crab consious sauce?
What bread would I … fillings … dressings? Gulp! Oh how I wished for the simple Tescos sarnie!
I was 500 Feet From President Bush
President Bush visited Ocean Springs and Gautier while I was in Ocean Springs. The Presidential helicopters flew very low and directly over Nenaâ€™s house, close enough, in fact, to make the house rattle. This is probably the closest I will ever be to an American President.
South Mississippi’s Coastline After Hurricane Katrina
Speak of Hurricane Katrina these days and most people will focus their conversation on the flooding of New Orleans, the plight of the poor and the Federal Governments woefully inadequate response.
Speak of South Mississippi and the story isn’t so clear. As the Mississippi newspaper, ‘The Sun Herald’, writes: ‘It becomes more and more obvious that to national media, New Orleans is THE story – to the extent that if the Mississippi Coast is mentioned at all it is often in an add-on paragraph that mentions “and the Gulf Coast” or “and Mississippi and Alabama.”‘
65,380 houses in South Mississippi destroyed.
The world’s media have barely touched on tragedy that befell South Mississippi when the facts speak for themselves: 65,380 houses in South Mississippi destroyed, an estimated $125 billion of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, 44 million cubic yards of debris in South Mississippi, 231 identified dead statewide, 5 unidentified dead, 67 missing, 383,700 Mississippi insurance claims filed, 20,447 Red Cross staff and volunteers in Mississippi, 543,006 Red Cross meals served, $185 million Red Cross money spent in South Mississippi.
We drove through the coastal roads of Gulfport and Biloxi, it’s not until you visit the area that you can truly take in the enormity of what happened. There are very few buildings still standing, those that do stand still have extensive damage.
There is not much else to say on this tragedy, view videos and be sure to check out the photos I took of the area.
On Saturday we decided to head the 60 miles to New Orleans. My girlfriend hadn’t been there since Katrina and I had (ashamedly) a morbid fascination to see first hand whether all the media coverage at the cost of other Katrina ravaged locations was justified.
We set of late morning for the hour road trip to New Orleans.
When we reached the outer limits of New Orleans it got very creepy, Freddy Kruger creepy, street after street and not one person spotted, just buildings that offered no resistance to the floodwater of the broken levee’s that consumed most of New Orleans. It’s no surprise that two thirds of the pre-Katrina population (1.2 million) is living elsewhere and some 50m cubic yards of debris still line the streets.
The 17th street levee was bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the more valuable real estate in the city.
We headed to the French Quarter of New Orleans as this was one of the few areas that miraculously escaped significant flooding (NOLA evacuee Clara Barthelemy claims: “The 17th street levee was bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the more valuable real estate in the cityâ€¦ to keep the French Quarter protected, the ninth ward was sacrificed) and only suffered wind and rain damage. I was surprised to see how little had actually changed since my last visit some seven years ago. As my girlfriend pointed out, the tourists are a little sparse, but people are slowly beginning to venture back. We visited the Riverwalk Mall, normally busy on a Saturday afternoon but it was almost empty. It was noticeable that their were very few African Americans in the ‘Quarter, since Katrina very few have ventured back, they have nothing to go back to and many suggest the levees were blown up: ‘More expensive places were saved at the expense of the neighborhoods that aren’t as valuableâ€¦ Rebuilding Bourbon Street matters more to the governmentâ€¦ that’s what mattered to Governor Blanco’. Conspiracy is rife on the ‘net, (one, two, three, four).
For $35.00 you can go on a bus tour called ‘The Katrina devastation tour‘, apparantly it is is Gray Line’s most popular sightseeing experience in the city. Some might say a little insensitive although tour operator Gregory Hoffman is said to lost his home, too, along with much of his business. And he’ll donate 10 percent of the ticket price to Katrina relief groups.
In the ‘Quarter there are many souvenir shops selling T-shirts poking fun at many of the officials deemed responsible for the slow response to the catastrophe as well as Hurricane Katrina itself. In particular Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, has been singled out for his remarks, he called for the rebuilding of a ‘chocolate New Orleans’ that maintains the city’s black majority, saying, ‘You can’t have New Orleans no other way.’ He continued: ‘This city will be a majority African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be.’
Amazingly he also proclaimed: ‘God is mad at America,’ in part because he does not approve ‘of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. He is sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it is destroying and putting stress on this country.’ A lot of debate has since emerged since his speech.
Tourists are not coming because the hotels are full of contractors.
Mayor Ray Nagin recently said: ‘We are in limbo and on hold.
Homeowners want to return but not unless they know they can rebuild, get a job and have somewhere to live’.
‘Tourists are not coming because the hotels are full of contractors’.
‘The city is broke because there are not enough people to pay taxes, and use public services. Without electricity businesses cannot open their doors, without businesses, electricity bills cannot be paid’.
Iraq – USA Is Finally Waking Up To The Truth
With Blair and Bush in denial that Iraq is on the verge of civil war and continually spurting rhetoric to justify their pre-emptive strike on Iraq, it was refreshing to see a Sun Herald (South Mississippi’s main newspaper) journalist writing a more critical view on the Bush Government’s involvement in the war. Thomas Friedman wrote: ‘Was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was – a country congenitally divided among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that can be held together only by an iron fist’.
It would appear the U.S. led coalition did not predict the sectarian violence that will ultimately end in civil war, so maybe (just maybe) Saddam the way Saddam was because …
Just being with the girlfriend was enough for me. Six months earlier Nena had evacuated Ocean Springs as the hurricane drew near. I couldn’t contact her for 3 days as the phone lines were down – I didn’t know whether she evacuated in time, Nena didn’t know if she had a home still standing or if any friends who stayed behind survived. Thankfully, everything worked out fine for Nena but there are 1000’s of people who have homes were detroyed and still live in trailers and survive on food rations, many in abject poverty.
They say that unless one learns from one’s mistakes, history repeats itself. Although the world knew Hurricane Katrina was coming, noone knew exactly if it would hit or reduce in ferocity before reaching land but the U.S. Government’s slow reponse will haunt the USA for years to come. The feeling of abandonment – not just in New Orleans, but Mississippi and Alabama – runs deep and should never be forgotton – ever!
So South Mississippi, until next time.
So long, Y’all!