Governors attending their national convention on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have seen signs of Hurricane Katrina recovery — glitzy casinos packed with tourists, new condominium towers rising along the beach, the major expansion of a bustling state port.
However, unless the governors skip the receptions with cocktails and jumbo shrimp, they probably won’t see the neighborhoods reduced to vacant lots and detached concrete steps to front porches that no longer exist four years after the monster storm. They won’t see the roads still torn up in the tiny town of Waveland or learn about the lagging city services in Pass Christian, where the tax base has eroded because its beachside Wal-Mart was gutted by Katrina and is still being rebuilt.
“It’s changed a lot. Nothing is like it was,” lamented Steve Kuljis, a mechanic who has lived most of his 59 years on Biloxi’s Point Cadet, a blue-collar neighborhood obliterated by Katrina’s winds and storm surge.
Point Cadet sits on a mile-wide peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and the Back Bay of Biloxi. On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina flooded the low-lying area and turned the modest wooden-framed bungalows into toothpicks. It heaved boats on shore and sucked entire households full of belongings out to sea — furniture, appliances, family photos.
It was a neighborhood of fishermen and shipyard workers, of families whose last names were French, Slavic and Vietnamese. Many of the homes had been passed from generation to generation, and many were uninsured or underinsured.
Few people could afford to rebuild, and “for sale” signs now dot dozens of grassy vacant lots. A few homes have been rebuilt to meet new flood elevation requirements, though most former Point Cadet residents have moved farther inland.