A couple of weeks ago I took a little back-road trip out West. I hoped to make it as far as Austin, but fog and rain settled around me and crept inside my head, slowing me down more than expected. I made it as far as Baton Rouge before turning back East, heading for home. Along the way, I stopped and explored many Gulf Coast towns, but one grabbed hold of me with both hands as soon as I crossed into it- Pass Christian.
Passing cars kicked up white sand covering the shoulders of the two-lane road, reminding me of driving through snow up North. To the right, white sand and cerulean-blue gulf water as far as I can see, gulls and pelicans rest on occasional pier pilings stripped of their piers. To the left, sprawling green yards filled with spindly live oaks and long driveways lead to foundations, where homes once stood. I pull in to one and get out with a heavy heart, thinking about the birthday parties and family gatherings that took place here. I look around in both directions, imagining the neighboring homes that stood here in 2004, before Hurricane Katrina took aim on this town. Other than the hundred-year-old oaks that remain, there are no visible signs of life, only a million dollar view at a cost.
I see a sign for “downtown” and quickly turn off. The road leads me to empty parking lots and decade-old family-run businesses operating from make-shift metal buildings and trailers.
Downtown is gone.
I drive up and down the roads in town, many stripped of the asphalt. Gravel and dirt kick up on my car as I pass through construction cones and around detours for the still unusable roads. I pass two or three construction workers half-heartedly working. The houses I see are obviously newly constructed and high up on stilts. I come upon a cemetery just across the railroad tracks, a decrepit iron fence around it, barely stands. I watch an old man with a tired face, one of the only people I see all day, cutting his lawn.
Katrina not only left scars, she annihilated this picturesque little town, destroying or damaging 95% of the homes and all of the businesses here. Seven years later, without big funding casino draws like neighboring Biloxi, who barely show signs of damage, rebuilding is slow and underfunded.
And this isn’t the first time.
In 1969, Camille unleashed her fury and obliterated “The Pass,” as it’s known. As I stop at memorials for both hurricane’s victims on my way out of town, I pause and wonder how one breathtakingly beautiful little 15 square-mile town can know so much pain and suffering?
I drive out of town feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut.