AugustaFreePress.com publisher Crystal Graham visited Long Beach, Miss., in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
This is the first installment in the six-part series published by the AFP beginning on Oct. 31, 2005.
Links to the entire series are below.
Hundreds of feet from the Gulf Coast.
Cars crumpled and littered along streets like paper along the highway.
In the distance, a lone American flag flapping in the wind.
Palm trees split in half.
South of the tracks, as it’s referred to by residents, a town destroyed.
It is, or was, as many say, Long Beach, Miss.
Situated between Pass Christian and Gulf Port, the home to 20,000, Long Beach is now mostly deserted.
South of the tracks, you must have a pass to cross over.
The only sounds are those of bulldozers leveling homes and carrying away debris – which themselves stand in the place of oceanfront views where houses once stood tall.
Signs of life still litter the streets – Mardi Gras beads, a leaf blower, a digital camera, a soccer ball.
And yet the stench in the air tells another story.
Riding out the storm
Some families and structures in Long Beach had withstood the devastating wrath of Hurricane Camille in 1969. It was unthinkable that a storm of that magnitude would strike again.
Residents of the coastal community will tell you that Hurricane Katrina came quickly. Within 24 hours, the storm’s winds had grown from 115 mph to 175 mph.
And some still decided to ride out the storm, putting their valuables above their own lives.
“I don’t know why I stayed,” Pass Christian resident Lynn Kimble told The Augusta Free Press last week as she stood outside the stairwell where she waited out Katrina.
“I was mesmerized by all this. I would rather see it in action than come back and find it the way it was,” Kimble said.
Stella Wolf, a Long Beach resident, chose to ride out the storm for different reasons.
“My husband and I both work in health care, so we had to stay to take care of our patients,” said Wolf.
“It was horrible. When I got out of the house, and when I could walk around, I knew the whole coast was gone,” Wolf said.
Some, like Wolf, are not homeless. They have taken in others from the community. Others, like Kimble, said it would be at least a year before their homes are habitable again. Others have no plans to rebuild or return.
Progress coming slowly
While homes are being torn down, and littered empty lots remain, help seems to be coming slowly.
Some families have received insurance checks, but can’t rebuild until new guidelines are set for the floodplain.
Others were issued checks for only a portion of what there homes are worth – commonly for $6,000 or $8,000, hardly enough to start over.
Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers are coming – but not as quickly as some would like.
“The assessments aren’t going to be there,” said Jim Sullenger, a volunteer with The Valley Responds, a Harrisonburg-based relief effort that is linking the Shenandoah Valley to the Gulf Coast region. “And the projected flood costs are too high to rebuild here, so here’s a community making tough decisions.
“It’s heart-wrenching to hear it.”
A new sense of normal
In our Valley Responds series, you’ll meet real people who are discovering a new sense of of normal – with your help.
In a newly reopened private school in Long Beach, you’ll meet principal Elizabeth Fortenberry, who took a break from a fall festival to chat with us.
“This is our new normal. This school is the only thing that is normal to these children. Many leave to a trailer in front of a wrecked home – some still live in tents. This is their normal,” she said.
On Friday, along with a small group of reporters and Valley Responds volunteers, I traveled to Long Beach. I met families in Long Beach that lost everything – and others that are rebuilding their homes and their lives after Hurricane Katrina.
And I learned more about The Valley Responds, a group that essentially adopted Long Beach on behalf of residents of the Shenandoah Valley.
And needs your help – desperately.
Emily Purdy, a volunteer with the relief group, has been to Long Beach twice now – but sees a long road ahead until this mission is completed.
“It’s hard to imagine that anything has been done,” she said Friday. “And yet, on the other hand, there’s a lot that has been done.
“Everything takes a long time,” Purdy said. “We think that we have such big heavy equipment in the United States, and we do, but it just makes a dent on a daily basis.
“There’s just so much work. The magnitude of the number of buildings that have been destroyed and just need to be knocked down boggles my mind,” she said.
“It’s like it hit yesterday.”
Part one: Impressions of Long Beach (10.31.05)
Part two: A Halloween to remember (11.01.05)
Part three: Rebuilding their homes, lives (11.02.05)
Part four: Life is an adventure (11.03.05)
Part five: The healing power of God (11.04.05)
Part six: Valley responds … or not (11.07.05)
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Waynesboro Downtown Development, Inc., has donated eight tickets to its 10th annual Taste of the Town fundraiser on Tues., March 17, from 5-9 p.m., at Fairfax Hall in Waynesboro, to readers of AFP. Tickets are on sale now for $35 per couple; $20 per adult; or $10 for teens age 13-18. Children under age 12 are free. There are also special VIP packages available for couples for $100. For more information, call (540) 942-6705 or visit www.waynesborodowntown.org.
The Waynesboro YMCA is giving local kids something to do on Friday nights that doesn’t involve walking the streets. AFP editor Chris Graham took part in last week’s Friday Night Basketball and talked with Y executive director Jeff Fife, the Waynesboro Police Department and some area teens to get a sense of how it all works. Length: 3:18. Read more
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Photos by Mark Miller
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., serves up some red meat.
For reprint rights or copies of these photos, contact Mark Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Analysis by Chris Graham
The early polls conducted in the aftermath of the first presidential debate held Friday night give Barack Obama the edge, though it came across to me as probably about as close to a draw as it could have been.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey had 51 percent of those surveyed saying they thought Obama did the better job in the debate, with 38 percent saying John McCain did better. A CBS Insta Poll had Obama winning 39 percent to 25 percent for McCain. Insider Advantage had it closer, 42 percent for Obama and 41 percent for McCain. MediaCurves.com polled independent voters and had that voter group favoring Obama as the winner by a 61 percent-to-38 percent margin.
My take is that the debate was a draw, with Obama taking Round 1 on economic issues and McCain winning on points in the foreign-policy round. I think the explanation for the poll numbers showing Obama to be the winner overall is more a reflection of the mood of the electorate right now. Obama has anywhere from a five- to nine-point lead in the national polls right now, and my thought during and after the debate last night and again upon reflecting on things this morning is that he probably was effective in convincing his supporters and those in the independent camp leaning his way that he would be a solid leader and commander-in-chief. I also think this morning that McCain was just as effective in portraying himself as a strong leader to his supporters and those independents leaning his way.
A draw, then, in this case goes to the guy who is ahead in the polls.
That’s my story, anyway, and for now, I’m sticking to it.
Notes from the Press column by Chris Graham
AFP editor Chris Graham will appear on “Charlottesville-Right Now!” on WINA-1070AM in Charlottesville today at 4:30 p.m. to talk Virginia and U.S. politics.
Graham will join host Coy Barefoot for a solid half-hour of politics talk.
More on WINA at www.wina.com.
Story by Chris Graham
(Third and final installment in a series.)
Are we ever going to be able to balance the federal budget again? That’s the question that has fiscal conservatives like me picking through the fiscal proposals of John McCain and Barack Obama searching for needles in the haystack.
The bad news: Neither candidate is showing the kind of fiscal discipline that Bill Clinton did back in the 1990s, when we ended that decade with budget surpluses that have since turned into massive federal deficits with the tax-cutting and dollar-spending fervor of the Bush Republicans.