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A resident's report: Post-Katrina defenses protected Miss. town

Ellis Anderson

Children play Thursday on the post-Katrina seawall protecting Bay St. Louis, Miss.

 

Ellis Anderson, an activist and artist from Bay St. Louis, Miss., was profiled in Rising from Ruin in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Anderson -- who authored an award-winning book on Katrina called "Under Surge, Under Siege" -- sent along these images and words on Thursday to showcase the aftermath of a tamer Hurricane Isaac and how post-Katrina defenses helped protect the town.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- Despite gusts up to 30 mph and squalls that continued to move through the Mississippi coast on Thursday afternoon, residents came out of hiding to see how their neighbors had fared. 

Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame called the recently completed seawall an example of the post-Katrina mitigation efforts that are now paying off. The old pre-Katrina seawall was only eight feet in height, he noted, while the bluff that Old Town is built on rises to 21 feet -- some of the highest elevation on the Gulf of Mexico.

The new seawall "protects us to the full extent of the bluff," he said. "Without a doubt, we would have lost that part of Beach Boulevard and a significant part of Old Town from erosion if that system weren't in place." 

Ellis Anderson

Still, some streets became canals in some areas of Hancock County, like the Shoreline Park neighborhood above, which is more than two miles north of the beachfront.

This road runs adjacent to a child care center. Built after Katrina to higher elevation standards, the center was apparently not impacted by the flooding. 

Ellis Anderson

Above, Doug Niolet, a retired Hurricane Hunter pilot, and friend Kevan Guillory, at left, take a  break from storm activities at the Hurricane Hunter Bar. 

During Katrina, the two men rode out the storm with five others in a historic bed and breakfast, the Bay Town Inn. When Katrina pulverized the building, Niolet and Guillory risked their lives trying to help their friends to safety. After the building disintegrated, they spent the remaining part of the storm perched in an oak tree (all seven people survived). 

The two reported that as Isaac approached they'd been peppered with calls, texts and emails from friends and family. Niolet said the funniest call was from his daughter Courtney. "She wanted to know if we'd picked out our tree yet." 

The friends expressed relief that the restaurant/bar owned by Niolet's mother-in-law had suffered only a partial loss of electricity and they anticipated opening for business on Friday. 

Related: Read Ellis' earlier Isaac post

Ellis Anderson

Many residents and businesses in Old Town Bay St. Louis (including this correspondent) reported no interruption of service throughout the storm.

Ed Day, Mississippi Power President and CEO, believes the storm-hardened stance adopted by the company after Hurricane Katrina is to credit.

"After Hurricane Katrina, the damage that our community and electrical infrastructure experienced was unimaginable," said Day. "We lost power to every customer, which was unprecedented, and we had to rebuild or repair more than two thirds of the power poles and lines in our system. While it was hard to see a silver lining at the time, Mississippi Power invested in new infrastructure on behalf of our customers, and today rigorously maintains it every day. We believe those results are evident as damage to our system during Hurricane Isaac has been minimal."

Fillingame said that despite the extended length of time that Isaac's feeder bands and storm surge battered the Mississippi coast, he believes official damage assessments will show that the city fared well under the circumstances. 

"There's no doubt about it. Ten years ago a storm like this would have been catastrophic," he said. "We're a hardened community now, due to lessons learned and mitigation. ... That should give us a reason for some comfort."

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