Steve's Blog: Howard Avenue drive will never be forgotten

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It was a simple drive down Howard Avenue four years ago. But it became a memorable Hurricane Katrina story; a story that I've received more comments on than any other.

As we reflect on Katrina's four year anniversary, that drive through a devastated East Biloxi comes quickly to mind.

Since so much of that early timeline remains a blur, I can't tell you exactly when I did that story. But I will never forget the experience and the story which resulted from it.

Photographer Travis Alford and I didn't know exactly what to expect when we visited that area. After all, this was just a short time after the hurricane and East Biloxi had certainly been slammed.

We saw the casino barge which was pushed onto the north side of Highway 90. This enormous structure was washed ashore by Katrina, as easily as a playful child can send a bath toy reeling.

I recall thinking how huge this floating casino structure really was up close.

That particular barge landed atop historic Tullis manor, sealing its fate, even if it might have survived the storm's winds and water.

The drive down Howard Avenue was eerie. There were homes and pieces of homes that had been scattered about like pick up sticks. Entire neighborhoods barely resembled the view that existed before the storm came calling.

I remembered thinking about all the heartache that must come when homes and businesses people had put their hearts into, were demolished in a matter of minutes.

We also encountered a visiting power truck as we began the drive down Howard. That was a subtle reminder that help was on the way and that America was already busy responding to this disaster.

I also recall seeing an American flag flying from a storm damaged business on Howard. Never have I seen so many flags as during those first few weeks after Katrina hit. Residents were quick to show their resolve, even through their tears and heart break.

I remember passing the old Seashore Mission site on Howard. It was demolished; with only a few remnants to testify about its existence.

I recalled spending the night there with a group of church volunteers. I was wondering what would happen with those who relied on the ministry which was provided there.

At the end of the Howard Avenue drive, I walked through the Church of the Redeemer property. That church site has always been a kind of sacred ground. It was where the Hurricane Camille monument was located. It was where I had covered many memorial services.

It was where I covered the funeral service for the late Wade Guice, the remarkable Harrison County civil defense director who always had a kind word, a joke and a smile.

But in this post-Katrina visit, the church and its wonderful bell tower were gone. The wind and water showed no partiality to this sacred spot.

Granite slabs from the Camille monument were washed off the memorial; the stone plates with the names of storm victims were cracked and damaged.

I recently returned to Howard Avenue and re-traced that drive four years later. It was good to see the progress, but still work remains.

That original story ran nearly nine minutes long, but didn't seem that lengthy. It remains the single story I've received the most comments on during my nearly 18 years at WLOX.

It's one drive and story that I will never forget.

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