By Stan Tiner
Special for the Newseum
The Mississippi Gulf Coast basked in a golden summer of success in that innocent August of 2005. Everything seemed aligned for a new era of prosperity for businesses and tourism.
We had watched the giant guitar — at 112 feet tall said to be the biggest in the world — put in place at the soon-to-open Hard Rock Casino, the latest jewel in Biloxi’s glittering casino row; and Frank Gehry’s signature architecture that would house George Ohr’s magnificent pottery had the art world buzzing.
Soon, the nation’s governors would descend on the Coast to behold the splendor of our strip of paradise. The world, it seemed, was our oyster.
That was before Katrina.
In one awful day, Aug. 29, the world we had known was swept away.
The cost of that day’s loss was measured in the tens of billions, but the impact has reverberated across the decade tracing a trajectory that rises and falls, accounting the lives of those who have persevered and survived.
Vast populations have ebbed and flowed like Katrina’s surge — first moving inland and then back toward the Gulf and their preferred connection to the water — the very water from which Katrina sprang. So much has been endured by the people in those hard 10 years. Higher insurance costs made it impossible for thousands to rebuild. The Coast economy was first buffeted by the national recession and then drowned in a sheen of crude from the BP oil spill.
But there were also great currents of kindness delivered by a rising tide of volunteers — 1 million of them — who came from around the nation and world to help us stand up from Katrina. A generous world sent billions of dollars to help us rebuild and recover.
What those volunteers, and first responders and political leaders and media saw was compelling, and cast Mississippi and its people in a different light than the stereotype that had plagued our
image in the nation’s mind for decades.
What they saw were people with grit and heart and the will to prevail over conditions that existed after the worst natural disaster in American history. They saw a strength and courage that stirred them.
Ten years out, the Mississippi Coast’s appearance is greatly changed, with endless emptiness where families and businesses once thrived. But the rebuilding that has been accomplished is better, stronger and more likely to withstand the next big storm to come our way.
Cities and neighborhoods have been reimagined, and a vibrant hopefulness is seen in every city boasting cafes, music venues, bookstores and a defiant string of beachside restaurants where sand prevailed only three years ago.
There was a time when many across the Coast suffered from Katrina fatigue. We were sick and tired of the stories and the anguished memories they recalled. In 2015, we seem to be in a new place on the road where we can remember all that was lost but also celebrate the strides taken on this arduous journey.
Katrina is a story without end, but at this telling South Mississippians are moving forward with hope and still enjoying the fruits of the Gulf and the good times for which we are known. But we are alert to the next big storm, the one we know could come, with the memory of the last one still so very fresh.
Stan Tiner is executive editor of the Sun Herald in Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss. In 2006, the Sun Herald was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service — the most prestigious honor for a newspaper — for its valorous and comprehensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina.