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Today is October 20, 2019

Mississippi Seen

Steps to nowhere

By Walt Grayson

Steps to nowhere

For decades, the ruin of The Church of the Redeemer was the most striking monument on the Coast of the destruction of Hurricane Camille. And then Katrina knocked down the rest of the church. Now, the Hurricane Camille Monument is located where the church once stood on Highway 90 in Biloxi.  

This is an exciting summer for 50th anniversaries. We just had the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing in July. And now we have the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Camille in the middle of August. As I recall, there were some “old-timers” back then that even connected the two events – saying if they’d never landed a man on the moon then the weather would have never gotten so far “out of whack.”

I don’t know what they blamed Hurricane Betsy on just four years before Camille. I don’t remember much about Betsy at all, other than the name. I was a thoroughly modern teenager and wasn’t aware of too much outside of myself, my friends, my girlfriend and school. And church, of course.

I do remember seeing Betsy’s landfall on television and the reporter saying it would come right up the Mississippi River. It made me wonder if we were in danger in Greenville. Daddy told me hurricanes didn’t have too much punch that far inland. They lose their strength once they move away from water. That calmed me down. Daddy grew up in Louisiana so I  figured he instinctively knew everything about hurricanes.

Actually, I had just barely graduated from teenage-hood when Camille came ashore in August of ‘69. It made a direct hit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Bert Case from WJTV-12 television in Jackson was all over the place with his photographer, Bob Bullock, sending back reports of damage from Ocean Springs to Waveland. Shocking video of total devastation like most people had never seen in Mississippi.  

No wonder, for so many years afterward, we thought Camille was the worst storm that could ever happen – until Katrina came along. I quit making assessments of what might be the “worst, baddest, etc.” storm or recession or flood after that – knowing no matter how bad, it might be topped – just like Katrina topped Camille. I figure if I didn’t tempt fate by attaching superlatives, the “forces” might not need to prove me wrong later.

The first time I saw the Mississippi Coast wasn’t until a year after Camille. We had taken a long weekend and headed out to find something new and drove to the Coast from the Delta with an idea of maybe going on to Pensacola. We spent the first night in Gulf Port at (I think) the Broadwater. Next day I was very surprised to see the amount of damage still there a year after Camille. Before crossing the Back Bay Bridge at Cadet Point from Biloxi over to Ocean Springs, we saw mountains of tin cans strewn about from where they had been washed from the seafood canneries – and the canneries themselves were washed away.

Driving along Highway 90, we saw the eerie “Steps to Nowhere” leading to empty lots where houses were no more. By the way, when I did a 25th-anniversary television story about Camille – years later, many of the “Steps to Nowhere” were still there. Some still are today – between Camille and Katrina. 

It is strange that the Coast never came back as that sleepy string of fishing villages that it was before Camille. But instead grew back as relatively mature up cities. And then Katrina hit and washed all that away. And now the Coast is coming back as sort of a sophisticated metropolis. 

That says something about a resilient people who could take direct hits from two of the worst storms ever and not only come back, but come back better. I don’t even know if Daddy knew hurricanes could make that happen.

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and he is the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.


 

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