Hurricanes are part of life for those who live in the southeast. You just learn to live with it; you prepare and you hope for the best. Most years, residents get their wishes; sometimes, it’s just not to be. I was born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It’s home. I was not quite a year old when Camille made landfall in 1969, so naturally, I have no recollection of that monster hurricane. In 1979, during Hurricane Frederic, we (as in my parents and my younger sister), stayed on the second floor of the high school’s vo-tech building. My dad was a teacher and he and my mom felt it would be safe. After witnessing what was surely an incredibly frightening storm (little sis and I slept through most of it), my mom made up her mind that never again would any of us stay during a landfall. Hurricane Elena followed six years later, Hurricane Georges made landfall in 1998 and of course, Hurricane Katrina forever changed millions of lives five years ago this week.
For those who were blessed enough to not see certain aspects of what was left behind, we knew the possibility existed of making discoveries in the days that followed that would surely haunt us. No one could escape witnessing the greed, fear and sense of hopelessness that Katrina left in her wake.
It’s estimated (hard numbers are impossible since there was no way to accurately record numbers for weeks) that suicide attempts in Mississippi alone rose by a staggering 600%. The stress caused many people to make desperate decisions. Drug abuse went through the ceiling and it wasn’t uncommon to find FEMA trailers converted to meth labs.
One of the worst events that unfolded was the unraveling of a once-respected attorney. Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, a Pascagoula native and attorney, found himself in his own legal troubles. He was accused of operating a “sham” by U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter, Jr. Before long, he and at least two others were accused of attempting to bribe another judge, extortion and contempt. Already a wealthy man, Scruggs wasted no time after Katrina’s landfall to build a class action suit against many of the larger insurance companies, including State Farm. His methods, however, revealed the worst of human nature. He not only let his family down – and even caused his own son to be sentenced to prison – but he also let those clients down who’d relied on him to go to bat for them against the insurance companies. He, his son Zach and a co-attorney in his firm, Sidney Backstrom, were all sentenced to federal prison cells.
Looking back, the past five years have meant major changes along the northern Gulf Coast. The bridge between Ocean Springs and Biloxi was rebuilt, the casinos are back in business (and have been for a few years), families have rebuilt their homes while others, usually those not born and raised here, opted to leave this region in lieu of an area where hurricanes aren’t a concern. For the rest of us, and despite the very real possibility of hurricanes making landfall at least six months out of the year, we can’t imagine calling anywhere else on this planet “home”.
Even as we’re reflecting on Hurricane Katrina and her massive and historical landfall in August, 2005, all eyes are on the two named storms brewing in the Atlantic Ocean now – Hurricane Danielle is currently a cat 2 storm while Earl was recently upgraded to a tropical storm with a likelihood of it becoming a hurricane. “Waves” continue to roll off the coast of Africa, as we’re entering Cape Verde season. Like life, a hurricane’s ultimate path is unpredictable and offers no room for assumptions.