Friday, September 30, 2011

The Gulf Coast

Happy Friday from Biloxi, Mississippi, where I've been attending an industry function since Tuesday afternoon.  If you're a little rusty with geography, Biloxi is on the Gulf of Mexico and was directly in the path of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated this region a little more than six years ago.

This is my first trip to this area, and, I must say, I'm kind of astounded by what I've seen just driving around.  Some of the folks who are regular visitors to the area have mentioned how many large buildings, particularly the casino/hotels (I'm staying in one of them and writing from there right now), were severely damaged but quickly restored.  Yet when I drove around a bit Tuesday afternoon upon arriving the first thing I noticed near the Gulfport (neighboring community) airport was that the roof was still damaged at a National Guard building.  Then, driving along the beach highway to Biloxi, you see new construction alternated with ruined homes and structures surrounded by chain-link fencing.  A couple of blocks in from the shoreline I saw a great many vacant lots, where homes apparently stood prior to the storm.

I had dinner twice in a community east of here called Ocean Springs and have since learned that a number of businesses reestablished themselves there, rather than rebuilding in Biloxi.  Why?  Apparently it's just a little further inland and on higher ground, so that makes living and working there less risky than in Biloxi itself.  A cab driver told me and some colleagues last night that before Katrina he paid $2300 per year for insurance for his home, which was within sight of the beach in Biloxi.  He mentioned that if he had chosen to rebuild in the same location that the insurance company would have required him to elevate the home on pilings by 18 feet and that his insurance would then cost about $19,000 per year.  No thanks, he said, and bought a home inland.

The oddest thing to me about this is that I was just in Destin, Florida earlier in the year for a similar business conference, and because it wasn't affected by Katrina it's a whole different ballgame there than here in Biloxi.  Bustling hotels, retail and resorts, in spite of the BP oil spill impact just a year ago.

The folks I've met who are from this part of Mississippi seem like great people and I have no doubt they're extremely resilient.  I wish them luck, as they most certainly deserve it.

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