August 29, 2005 a storm ravaged the Gulf Coast, bringing an end to the most prosperous time in Biloxi’s history. Casinos, hotels, businesses and residences alike were laid to waste by the historic and unforgiving Hurricane Katrina.
At the time, my grandfather was Mayor of Biloxi. He had seen Biloxi out of the red and into the black, as businesses and commerce boomed within our small, coastal city. Because of our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi is no stranger to hurricanes. Many land on her beaches and whip their wind until they slowly dissipate. In 1969, Hurricane Camille made landfall and ravaged the Gulf Coast. She became the standard for comparison for all storms to come.
Being that he lived through Hurricane Camille, my grandfather, Mayor Holloway, believed nothing could be as catastrophic as her. However, after an interview with Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel, he knew that would not be the case. Mr. Cantore advised my grandfather take one last look at his city, because after Katrina, it would never be the same.
Before Katrina was scheduled to arrive, my grandfather and I went to fill his truck up with gas, just as we did before any other hurricane. My family never evacuated, because my grandfather needed to be there for his city before, during and after. I remember sitting in his truck listening to the radio. The broadcaster predicted Hurricane Katrina would devastate the Coast. More than Hurricane Camille, even. Such an idea was unfathomable to me. When my grandpa returned from paying the clerk, I voiced my doubt to him.
“Do you think it’s going to be that bad, pawpaw?” To which he replied, “I’m afraid so.”
Once the tank was full, he and I drove down the beach one last time. I attempted to take mental pictures of the city I loved so much. The beautiful homes on the beach, historical landmarks, and the casinos lining highway 90. My grandpa was quiet and pensive throughout our drive. I could sense his anxiety, but I was not sure how to express my concern to him. I was only 10, after all. Eventually our drive concluded. We returned home to pick up the rest of our family so that we could go to city hall, where we were going to weather the storm.
That night we slept on cots in the city council room as we anticipated Katrina’s arrival. She came ashore during the high tide around 6:30 the next morning. Feeder bands pelted rain while simultaneously whipping wind like a merciless whip around the marble building. The sounds of that storm are forever etched into my brain. Not long after Katrina’s landfall, the water started rising and did not stop. Shrimp boats were floating down the street. Entire structures were washed away with ease as Katrina made her way through the Gulf Coast. The storm surge reached 30 feet. “This is our tsunami,” said my grandpa.
Katrina was 17 hours of hell, leaving nothing by destruction in her wake. An estimated 90 percent of infrastructure was lost during her reign of terror. Families lost their homes and all of it’s contents. Some died in their homes, because no one expected Katrina to be as bad as she was.
The most amazing thing to me was everyones willingness to help: strangers, friends, and disaster relief workers alike. Storm waters have the ability to wash away a lot, but they are unable to wash away our heritage and pride. Even those who had lost everything were helping their neighbors or friends or family, because that’s what coasties do.