Bay St Louis, MS – From Sunk to Funk

Katrina damage Bay St. Louis MS Words of hope on a building in Old Town Bay St. Louis, MS

Words of hope on a building in Old

Town Bay St. Louis, MS

Flowers, Bay St. Louis, MS Katrina damage Old Town Bay St. Louis MS Katrina damage to a bank vault Bay St. Louis MS


Damage from Katrina, Bay St. Louis, MS Rebuilding after Katrina in Bay St. Louis MS

One building reborn.  Another waits its turn.

Damage from Katrina, Bay St. Louis, MS Damage from Katrina, Bay St. Louis, MS Missing steeple but lots of faith, Bay St. Louis, MS

Missing steeple but lots of faith.


Old Town Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

April 20-24, 2008 - We drove along the Gulf Coast of Florida and, after crossing

Alabama on I-10, we dipped down to the coast again in Mississippi.  The further west we

drove the more we encountered the fallout from Katrina.  It was startling to see how

extensive the damage was.  Not living anywhere near this area, it had been easy to think

that life returned to normal once Katrina was out of the headlines.

Instead, we found a

coastline still reeling

from the devastation

three years earlier.

The coastal road in

Mississippi was in the

process of

being rebuilt.

The once



that lined the road were stark

reminders of the raw power hidden in

the innocent, sparkling waves that

lapped the shore.  Only one in five of

those coastal mansions had been

repaired.  The rest stood forlorn and

vacant, windows blown out, roofs

collapsed, walls wrapped in "caution"

tape.  The weeds grew thick and tall

around the foundations and the

gracious lawns that swept down to the sea were

overgrown.  We drove in awed silence.  We had had no idea.

We stopped in a visitors center,

and the host spoke almost

reverently of the Mississippi

governor whose savvy use of

federal funds had apparently

begun to breathe new life into

a region that had been like a

war zone.  On his advice we

took a detour and stopped at

the tiny coastal community of

Old Town Bay St. Louis.  What

a delightful find.

This town shared the epicenter of Katrina with eastern New

Orleans.  A tiny community, it sits right on the water.  Some of

its businesses used to line a waterfront road.  After Katrina

roared in from the Gulf, all that was left of a one-time bank

building was the bank's vault.  The massive door was totally

rusted and was stuck partly open.  The concrete wall on the

side of the vault had a single spray painted word:  "solid."

Today Old Town Bay St. Louis is rebuilding itself as a kind of artists' colony, with

cute, funky homes and shops.  As we drove into town with our huge rig we were

greeted warmly and shown where to park so we could walk the town.  What a

contrast from Gulf Breeze, Florida, which we had just left, where the visitors

center had a huge sign out front, "No Motorhomes," and the mammoth

empty parking lot across the street had similar signs posted every few feet.

In Old Town Bay St. Louis, with its tiny streets and tight parking, they were

hungry for visitors, even those pulling large trailers.

Reconstruction takes a very long

time.  Next to a building that had

found new life we would see one

that was still hoping for help.

However, the homes that were

completed exuded a relaxed kind of

charm, with pleasant porches and

beautifully tended gardens.

A beloved Live Oak tree was

encircled with a pretty white

deck.  Graceful stairs

beckoned visitors to climb up

towards the heart of the tree.

This tree was tougher than

Katrina and still stood straight

(for a live oak) and proud.

Others leaned to one side.

Looking around town there was no

mistaking which direction Katrina took

as she blew through the area.  Trees

and signs all leaned in one direction,

and lampshades were dented on one

side.  It was startling to imagine the

force of the wind that would leave

sturdy trees forever tipped.

But today the town was filled to

overflowing with colorful flowers.

There was an air of happiness,

purpose, accomplishment and

whimsy everywhere.  Pretty

gardens, funny weathervanes, and

unique gingerbread houses made

the tedium of reconstruction seem

almost fun.

Relaxation seemed important in this

town too.  Many homes were fronted

by inviting porches cradling comfy

chairs and bright flowers.

A row of little homes right in the center

of town has yet to be rebuilt.   I have no

doubt that these cute buildings will be a

focal point in a warm, chatty community.

As we walked around we saw that

little houses weren't the only ones

hit hard by Katrina.  Even the

county courthouse came away

from Katrina battle scarred and

was now wrapped in a bandage of


Not everyone displaced by

Katrina ended up in a FEMA

trailer.  Some simply took a

trailer frame and erected a tiny

traditional house on it.  We saw

one parked and another

heading down the road.  They

were cute, but we still loved our

little Lynx.  We were interested

to learn later that our Lynx was built to the same

specs with the same materials by the same

people and in the same factory as over 300 of the

FEMA trailers.  Our trailer was a delightful home

and I wrote to the Fleetwood factory workers --

who were so saddened to see their hard

work after Katrina maligned in the press --

to let them know they had a happy

customer here.  Maybe the difference in

our experience with our trailer is that it was

our ticket to freedom, and we paid for it out

of our own pockets.

From the Gulf Coast of Mississippi we

made our way inland to historic city of

Natchez, Mississippi.