Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Mississippi coastal towns' measures after Katrina help Hurricane Isaac

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — As Hurricane Isaac ripped through southern Mississippi on Wednesday and dumped sheets of water on tiny coastal towns, hundreds of seagulls flocked to the water's edge and faced the ferocious wind.

In Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Waveland — ground zero for Hurricane Katrina seven years ago — neighbors rode out the storm while adhering to similar laws of survival.

"When disaster comes, we all work as a unit," Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame said from his home, which flooded three feet during Katrina but was dry Wednesday. "We put our heads together and decided to build a community that's resilient to these kinds of storms."

After Katrina leveled homes and toppled trees, Bay St. Louis — population 9,800 — implemented new ordinances and invested millions of dollars in protections.

Local leaders asked residents to stilt their homes up to 24 feet in elevation. The town built a stronger, higher bridge to protect the twice-destroyed road that connects Hancock and Harrison counties. And taxpayers funded a $17 million seawall, finished only months ago, to protect beachfront businesses and homes.

Those measures helped protect the area from Isaac, which wasn't nearly the storm Katrina was but still lashed the area with 50 mph winds and more than 7 inches of rain.

The storm's effect was still noticeable along the Mississippi coast.

In tiny Waveland — surrounded on three sides by water and scattered with bayous, rivers and canals — the storm surge flooded local streets.

On the 85-foot high Bay St. Louis Bridge, the driver of a beige Ford pickup tried to cross as the wind whipped, then thought better of it, shifted into reverse and slowly backed down.

Down the road, trucks and SUVs crammed into the parking lot of Scafidi's Wheel-Inn diner, peeling off raincoats and greeting friends as they ducked in.

Rhonda Gamble, a former paralegal, held up her iPhone to show pictures of a friend's home in Bay St. Louis, surrounded by water deep enough for a motorboat.

"They've got electricity, cable and internet," said Gamble, 54. "But I still call to check on them."

Near the Louisiana border, residents in Koapaka Hawaiian Hideaway RV Park braved the storm to exchange movies and deliver sweets.

"We all keep an eye on each other," Kathy Haywood, 50, said from the couch of her dimly lit home. "We'll all stay together and stay dry."

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