Coast Celebrates Unusual Post-Katrina Fourth Of July

Joe Wallis had just added lighter fluid to his charcoal. Flames were burning off a previously cooked meal. As Walls scrubbed off the remaining food, he talked about the debris surrounding his picnic area.

"It's a messed up Fourth of July is what it is," he said.

Messed up? Maybe. But storm debris was no reason for the Wallis clan to cancel an annual picnic.

Sharon Touchet organized the reunion.

"Even though things are devastated here, why not continue the tradition," she said, pointing out that the Wallis family had been hosting a Fourth of July get together for more than 35 years. "It's part of our heritage. It's part of Biloxi."

At the other end of the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, David Williams got a radio call.

"Go ahead," the Biloxi fireman responded.

Williams was on board the city's fire boat, preparing for his holiday assignment. When asked if the day felt like a typical Fourth of July, Williams said, "No, it doesn't."

The Biloxi fireman ran the city's fire boat past beach front properties that on most Fourth of Julys would be jam packed with people.

"It's weird," he said. "You're used to seeing this place full of tourists, full of locals, enjoying the beach, enjoying Deer Island."

But on the first Fourth of July since Hurricane Katrina, the beach was virtually empty. And Deer Island only had a few tents on it. There were a number of pleasure boats on the water. But the firemen didn't see the typical parade out to the islands that normally accompanies this summer holiday.

"Normally this whole area right here is slap full of boats," Williams noted, pointing to the area between Deer Island and the Beau Rivage.

Billy Orr worked with Williams. "I think it will be slow this year," Orr said. "But give it a few more years, you'll see it bigger and better than what it used to be."

And when it picks up, you can bet the Wallis' will be set up in the same spot -- celebrating the Fourth of July together -- in downtown Biloxi.

"We're going to still survive," Wallis said as he got ready to place meat over his sizzling coals. "It's going to come back to where it's beautiful in Biloxi."