Politics & Policy

Biloxi Blues

An intimate look at Katrina destruction

NOTE:Liz Spratlin and her family, particularly her parents, Victor and Gayle Mavar, have joined with National Review on many of our cruises, and have become, effectively, part of that greater NR family. The Mavars live in Biloxi, and after Katrina hit, we tried to contact them. We e-mailed Liz, who lives in Jackson, to find out about the fate of her parents and other family members. Her response–we believe you’ll find it powerful–is below.–Jack Fowler, Associate Publisher

…So nice to hear from you. I am checking e-mail today for the first time in over a week. My power in Jackson was out from noon the day of the storm until last night. Jackson is about 140 miles north of Biloxi, and some places here had major damage, confirming yet again the strength of Katrina.

I think my sister Claire was able to respond to y’all a few days ago and give you some information. As I’m sure she shared with you, Mom and Dad’s house is gone. I drove them down to Biloxi on Sunday and it was a devastating trip. Biloxi looks like it is a war torn city, not a place hit by a hurricane. All of the grass is brown, the trees have no leaves and the trunks are dirty brown from the salt water. Eerily quiet. It is difficult to get your bearings straight on the front beach, even though I have lived there my entire life, because most everything that is familiar is gone. The house we grew up in is quite literally a pile of bricks. White bricks and pieces of the red Spanish tile roof everywhere. The swimming pool remains, filled with debris and brown water. The basement is exposed and was filled with water, but while we were there the National Guard came and siphoned most of the water out for us. They were kind and eager to help. We located the second story of the house a block behind, the staircase that led up to it lying beside it in one full piece with the runner carpet still perfectly in place. My three brothers and one sister were there, and we all dug through the rubble and tried to find things. We had a little luck, but not much. Some of my mom’s silver pieces, a few random kitchen utensils, and a couple of political pins from George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign – how about that! But it was hot and emotional and depressing and unbelievable.

The casino barges were strung across Hwy. 90 (the beach road) like children’s toys. Driving by them, I couldn’t believe how enormous they looked out of the water, and I couldn’t imagine what kind of force lifted them up and tossed them across four lanes of traffic. The land based hotels are gutted from the wind and rain. The Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge lies in the water like a deck of cards. There isn’t a house left on the beach. And this is just Biloxi. This storm stretched from New Orleans to Mobile, and the Mississippi Delta even had hurricane damage. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.

Just about everyone in our extended family lost their homes, but so far, no one that we know has lost their life. Amazing given the enormity and ferocity of this storm. August 29th was my birthday, and at first I thought, what a rotten thing to happen on your birthday. But then I realized this was the best birthday I’ve ever had. Dad did not want to leave Biloxi during the storm, and says the only reason he did was because we (the kids) were all so insistent that they do so. Though the threat never materialized because they did indeed leave, it made me realize that I could have lost them and a great number of my immediate and extended family in one day. But I didn’t. We’re all here, alive, healthy, and together. It stinks to see your whole life’s memories in a pile of rubble and scattered across a few blocks, but I’m glad I got to see it and cry about it with my entire family. Now that’s a birthday present.

My parents’ boat survived with only a little superficial damage and I think they are going to try to live on it until they decide what to do permanently. I wish they’d stay here with me in Jackson for a while, but they are eager to get back home, to Biloxi. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers and well wishes. It means so much and those are the exact things we need right now. Please give all of our friends at National Review our best. … Please stay in touch and we’ll do the same.–Liz


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