As the days progressed, we began to settle down. Along with the couple whose son lived next door, Malin and Charles, and me, we had added another woman, Martha, and her adult son. Both women were teachers and lived just a few houses apart in Bay St. Louis or rather what had been Bay St. Louis since it was now washed away. They were trying to reassemble their lives as best they could as the shock and fatigue wore off revealing the ugly reality of their post Katrina life.
They had no home, no job, and no belongings of any kind except Martha who had her minivan and files. Rumors and half-truths were everywhere and you lost any sense of what the truth really was. Honestly though, the most pressing problem was where you could get gasoline for your car if you had one. At the stations that still had gasoline, the wait in line was a minimum of one and a half hours. Many were either closed or had pumps that were closed.
Stations had run out or low with the surge of fill-ups prior to Katrina arriving and moving gasoline from the manufacturer to the pump completely failed. Deliveries of all goods were delayed initially since roads had to be checked for fallen trees, power lines, and debris. No stores opened since they didn’t have electricity. Food stored in refrigerators at home and businesses had to be thrown away, but new supplies couldn’t be bought for the house or store. The shelters were overloaded, bottled water became a precious commodity, and each day was remarkably clear, an almost dazzling clarity, and beautiful despite the heat.
Slowly, things returned to normal and people with homes found a semi-permanent place to start rebuilding their lives. As roads were cleared, everyone was allowed to move about more freely. It was about six weeks after Katrina, one day in early October, when we drove down to Bay St. Louis. It was my first trip since Katrina hit and to this day that trip haunts me. It started out with relaxing chit-chat just like any other travel. We headed south toward Hattiesburg seeing the occasional blue tarp covering a portion of a roof. Then, the tarp covered roofs became more evident until they became an almost obscene reflection of the damage. But that was Hattiesburg and north of Hattiesburg; then, our trip moved south.
Words to describe the devastation I saw aren’t invented and emotions evoked by those silent vistas remain. The stark destruction of mile after mile of forested land overwhelms. There were no trees standing. There were no birds, no cheep or twitter. There was no underbrush nor animals to rustle it. There was mile after mile of stumps torn and ripped clinging even now to the ground by their roots. It should suggest the possibility of new life but rather it unveiled thoughts of wailing, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
For miles, this continues until we come to a town that probably bustled a couple of months ago. Today, there is little traffic and minimal business conducted. Along with the houses, it seems as though the vivacity of the town and it’s people was sucked into oblivion. Like those tree stumps, they are there but there is no life. Nothing changes, the closer we get to the coast, unless it gets worse. Since leaving Hattiesburg, we have hardly spoken a word. There is nothing to say.
They did rebuild their homes and their lives. They stayed in the same place but moved beyond the past destruction.