Hurricane Katrina's visit to the downtown Biloxi library has all the elements of a nightmare novel. But even though the storm made a mess of the library, that isn't the end of the story. Some determined people are intent on writing a happy ending.
A walk through the library... is an obstacle course.
"I can assure you that many of these things were not in the library before the storm," said librarian Jamie Ellis, as she stepped over storm driven debris.
A storm surge stew of sea grass, water logged books and assorted who-knows-what-else now covers the floor.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought to myself. We never thought that it would get this high. We just didn't think that it would happen," said Ellis.
Katrina thought otherwise. Her true story left behind a smelly, unsightly, unpleasant mess.
"There's a window out here and a window out over here. And basically the water came in. We don't see much wind damage in here. Things that were on the shelf above the water line are still there. So, it seems it was mostly a water event," Ellis explained.
Dry and undisturbed above the water mark, a pre-storm newspaper warns Katrina is coming.
"We had all the census micro film here. And lots of things. People just depended on all this," said librarian's assistant, Jane Shambra.
She mourns a loss of local history. The hurricane claimed a portion of the history and genealogy section.
"It's terrible. It's become a part of our life. All this history and genealogy stuff. And it's kind of like a part of us is just washed away," said Shambra.
The storm destroyed 25 thousand of the library's 47 thousand books. Those that can be salvaged will need special treatment.
All the Biloxi books which can be saved will get a refrigerated truck ride to Chicago. That's where a company that specializes in document restoration will use some high tech methods to restore these volumes.
The recovery process involves blast freezing the books and exposing them to gamma rays.
Full recovery isn't a short story; it's more like a lengthy novel. But those who love the library are anxious to write the final chapter.
"You just have to keep a positive outlook in times like these. Things have to get better. They must get better," said Jamie Ellis.
The librarian says it could be two years before the downtown Biloxi library re-opens.
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