By Jim McCloskey
Designers and builders tend to think about water as a beneficial feature, an artistic medium, a resource for exercise and hydrotherapy and beauty and awe. You all experience that water at its contained, controlled best and know exactly how much joy and delight flow when people are in or around water as part of their daily lives.
But this material, as has often been stated in articles we’ve published through the years, has a scary side we cannot overlook – and therein hangs this tale.
I spent several days in New Orleans and the on the Gulf Coast after the International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo ended on November 4. Judy flew in from Los Angeles that evening, and my brother and his wife joined us from their home in Mississippi – good times even if all we’d have done was sit around and talk.
But we did more than that. After spending about six hours walking around the French Quarter one day, we decided to join a driving tour and see more of the city than our feet would make possible. This included parts of the Garden District I’d never seen before as well as a couple cemeteries that are a bit off the beaten track.
But mostly, and this should have come as no surprise to us, the tour was about Hurricane Katrina and how much the city has changed in the almost exactly 11 years since the water rose and the levees failed.
It was phenomenal. We rolled through neighborhood after neighborhood where everything we could see had been under eight to 12 feet of water for days after the storm passed. We saw so many places where there were gaps in the lines of homes where one had been destroyed and others rebuilt or restored around it. We heard stories of heroism and cruelty, hope and despair – all swirling around the awesome power of water to affect lives.
It was a sobering experience, but there was more in store during our trip to my brother’s home in Pascagoula, Miss.
Leaving Louisiana, we headed toward to Gulf Coast and, driving through Pass Christian, Gulfport and Biloxi, saw the same sort of mass devastation and only partial recovery from the storm even eleven years later. The same surge that overwhelmed New Orleans hit these coastal cities as well, wiping out most of the region’s cultural heritage, huge numbers of pre-Civil War mansions and almost every residential and commercial establishment within striking distance of the Gulf.
We saw the same thing in Pascagoula, where perhaps a third of the waterfront lots now have homes on them, none of them now in the classic Gulf Coast style. My brother’s home came through unscathed, but think of this: He’s on a hilltop more than 30 feet above the mean high tide line on Pascagoula’s river. The river is more than a mile wide in front of that hill, and the storm surge was so intense that water actually lapped onto his front porch.
Think of the force of that storm; think of the countless billions of gallons of water it pushed upriver; think of the noise and horror tied up in that event, which reshaped so much of the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.
I love water, but my mind was reeling by the time I left Mississippi behind. And oh, before I forget: We were there during a two-month drought that destroyed crops all through a region where rain is usually so plentiful and reliable that there are few irrigation systems in place to take care of such shortages.
I love water, but it took only a couple days to remind me that it absolutely demands our respect – and maybe that we fear it more than a little.