Hurricane Katrina/Gulf Coast Recovery

Hurricane Katrina left a swath 70 miles across Mississippi’s entire coast when it came ashore on August 29, 2005. She was no respecter of persons: historic landmarks beloved by generations of Coast residents and Waffle House restaurants alike washed away so completely that the landscape seemed as if it had never been occupied. The loss of these structures and neighborhoods not only meant physical damage, but also social and emotional damage–many residents who lost their homes could not afford to re-build, leaving those who have re-built often left solitary in once vibrant communities.

While the massive storm surge–estimated at 35 feet high at Bay St. Louis where the eye of the storm landed–caused massive and catastrophic damage on the Coast, the storm’s enormous wind field brought devastation to many inland communities like Hattiesburg, Laurel, Columbia, and Tylertown. Even Jackson, 180 miles north, sustained hurricane-force winds, ripping off chunks of the copper roof covering the Old Capitol, damaging the artifacts in the State Historical Museum and closing the museum for over three years.

According to the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s very helpful website, staff from MHT and the Miss. Department of Archives and History (which is the State Historic Preservation Office in Mississippi) began within a week or so to survey the damage to the 14 historic districts on the Coast. Overall, in the first two months, they documented over 1000 damaged historic structures and noted the complete destruction of at least 250 National Register-listed properties. MHT’s site has some great photos from this survey. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Texas Historical Commission, the Association for Preservation Technology, and Colonial Williamsburg also got involved by organizing teams of volunteer architects, engineers, and architectural conservators to come to the Coast for a week each and assess the most badly damaged buildings, meeting with property owners to discuss repairs. In all, over 10 volunteer teams came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast between October 2005 and May 2006.

During this time, MHT had also received enough donations to begin a small Pilot Stabilization Program, but there was very little else in the way of financial help for desperate homeowners. FEMA’s offer of free demolition proved very tempting for homeowners whose insurance was refusing to pay because the damage was flood-related, and at least another 250 National Register-listed properties, including the Tivoli Hotel, were demolished with FEMA footing the bill.

In June 2006, Congress appropriated $40 million to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama for grants to repair historic properties damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mississippi received $26 million of this total, with the grants being administered by MDAH.  MDAH has set up a full-time office in Biloxi to oversee these preservation projects, which now number around 300 through 3 Rounds (Round 1 in December 2006, Round 2 in February 2007, and Round 3 in April 2007). Buildings must be eligible or listed on the National Register to be considered for these grants, and priority is given to owner-occupied houses. However, some larger projects, such as the Waveland Community Center, Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs, and Gulfport City Hall also dot the list of approved projects.  Although the initial deadline for expenditure of the grant money was Dec. 31, 2008, that has been extended for one year to Dec. 31, 2009, because of many delays in the process, including state bidding requirements, lack of architects and qualified contractors, and homeowners caught in insurance purgatory (the best site on the insurance front is Slabbed–the issues are mind-boggling complex).

As of early 2009, Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ historic beachfront home, has been re-opened to tourists (in June 2008), work is close to complete on the Waveland School/Community Center, and the Louis Sullivan/Frank Lloyd Wright beach cottages in Ocean Springs have been stabilized and work is about to begin on the renovations. Much work remains for historic properties on the Coast, and the constant stress of the recovery is taking its toll on many residents.

Related Posts/Blogs:

Katrina’s  Lost Landmarks Series

Katrina Survivors Series

More Resources:

Ken P’Pool’s (MDAH) report to National Trust Forum, Sept. 1, 2005

David Preziosi’s (MHT) report to National Trust Forum, Sept. 2, 2005

New York Times article, “In Mississippi, History is Now a Salvage Job,” Sept. 8, 2005

Alan Huffman, Preservation Online, “The Unkindest Storm: Hurricane Katrina Shattered Many of the Gulf Coast’s Historic Districts.” Sept 16 2005

Historic Downtown Hattiesburg letter, Sep 2005

World Monuments Fund Adds New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as its 101st site on the 100 Most Endangered List, Oct 2005

USA Today, “Storm Exacts a Cultural Toll,” Oct. 13, 2005

SECAC Newsletter, “Thoughts on the Cultural Impact of Katrina: People and Things and a Web Site Status Report,” Oct 2005?

WLOX report, “Efforts Underway to Restore Beauvoir,” Nov. 17, 2005

New York Times, “Civil War Survivors That Gave Up Their Ghost,” Jan. 29, 2006

MSNBC report, “Historic Ruins Await Their Fate,” March 2006

Heritage Preservation Emergency Task Force

Governor’s Office for Recovery & Renewal:  Historical and Cultural Institutions

FEMA, “Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast: Mitigation Assessment Team Report, Building Performance Observations, Recommendations, and Technical Guidance:  Chapter 6, Historic Buildings” July 2006

The Gaffney Ledger, “Artifacts are gone with the winds, but Jefferson Davis’ home will rise again,” Feb. 12, 2007

Mississippi IHL, “Department of Archives and History Awards Grant to Southern Miss’ Gulf Park Campus,” August 10, 2009.

Alan Huffman, “Mississippi Yearning,” Preservation, Sept/Oct 2007

Bloomberg News, “Red Tape Stalls Repair of Katrina-Wrecked Landmark Cottages,” Nov. 7, 2007

Slabbed, “Beauvoir is Back!” May 30, 2008

WLOX report, “Historian Urges Immediate Repairs to Save Rare Pascagoula Landmark,” Oct 8, 2008

“Preserving Mississippi’s Historic Resources After Katrina,” by David Preziosi, Mississippi Heritage Trust, Feb 2012:

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