What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First trip to Coast since Katrina packs wallop on heart

Daily Journal
by Leslie Criss

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”
– Winston Churchill
My trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast two weekends ago was my first since Katrina ravaged the place I called home for nearly six years.

And though I’d seen the film footage and photographs, none adequately prepared me.

In the two years since the hurricane devastated the area, the clean-up effort has been ongoing. The debris has, for the most part, disappeared.

But there remains mile after mile of empty lots where grand old houses once stood – a true and tragic testament to the power of nature.

Weeks after the storm, a friend brought me a photograph of the property on Ocean Springs’ Front Beach where once stood among majestic oaks a beautiful old house, complete with cottage. It’s where I – and three dear friends – lived during our teaching years.

The photo made me sad. But when I rode by the place two weeks ago, the tears came. The land is clear, except for a single column of concrete and brick that once bordered a staircase.

Later in the day, two friends drove me along Highway 90 from Biloxi to Gulfport. And I kept having to ask where we were. Except for the lighthouse and a battered Edgewater Mall, no landmarks exist.

When I talked to folks who’ve lived on the Coast all their lives, most grew sadly pensive when they spoke of Katrina and their personal losses. Others spoke of their lives now lived in FEMA trailers as they continue to wait for funds to repair or rebuild.
Many are hopeful for the future of the Coast.

Others’ words are laced with bitterness. Most agree the pre-Katrina Coast will never again be.

Angrily, folks (including me) agree on something else, too: The national media continues to miss the story.

Sure, television and print reporters spent the days just after Katrina in this state of my birth. But then over in New Orleans, a city damaged mildly by a hurricane named Katrina, the levees broke. And those rushing waters pulled the collective curiosity of the media – and the concern of the nation – right into Louisiana.

Even now, two years later, when reporters talk about Katrina, it was the hurricane that devastated New Orleans. Mississippi is often mentioned as an afterthought.

Truth is, as I see it, the national media have missed out on some amazing stories by focusing all attention on our Louisiana neighbors. (And, no, I’m not saying New Orleans merited no attention.)

I can tell you that Coast native and “Good Morning, America” anchor Robin Roberts is a hero to a lot of Coast dwellers. “If not for her, we’d have been forgotten.” That’s what one person told me.

Maybe one day the national media will get it. I hope so. For there are still stories to be written and told about the kindness of strangers, the goodness of neighbors, the patience, perseverance and power of the people along the Coast.

Right here in Mississippi.

Contact Leslie Criss at or 678-1584.

Appeared originally in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, 9/23/2007.

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