Hard Rock Was Hard Hit By Katrina

Published: Jun. 1, 2006 at 6:35 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2006 at 12:12 PM CDT
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Chase Bradford remembers the buzz. The human resources employee was inside Hard Rock Biloxi when nostalgic music momentos were being hung around the resort.

"It was perfect. It was ready to be opened," she said nine months later.

And then, on the eve of Hard Rock's unveiling, the unthinkable happened.

"Nobody got to see it," project manager Karl Bulot mumbled. "Nobody got to see it."

A monstrous hurricane slammed into the $235 million resort. Bradford had trouble coming up with words to describe her disappointment.

"Last time we saw it, it was a brand new building. It looked perfect. And then, this is what you came back to," she said.

Hard Rock executives have pictures from the storm. They show the damage that covered virtually every inch of the resort.

"This right here is the actual still water mark," Bulot said, pointing to a window next to the hotel's check in counter.

The counter is on Hard Rock's second floor -- almost 25 feet above sea level. It wasn't just water that swamped the property. Mud and muck made everything a mess.

"It's a lot of total disbelief like Chase had said earlier," said Bulot. "You've gotta start over."

First, contractors must haul off the twisted steel, and broken slot machines that buckled under Katrina's fury. In about 60 days, the toppled casino barge will be scrapped. It will be replaced by sturdier cement pilings that should be able to withstand the next storm.

"We're going to build back as good, if not better," Bulot bragged.

Hard Rock's new target opening date is July, 2007.

As Mac Cowand found out, the damage wasn't confined to waterfront properties.

"I can say this. Hurricane Katrina did not discriminate. It got everybody," the Waveland police officer said.

On August 29, everybody included Cowand's entire department.

"To see white caps in the parking lot, white caps over in the other parking lot, and the wind beating you with the rain, you wonder is this a dream," he said.

If it was a dream, it was the worst possible dream anybody in Waveland or Hancock County could remember.

Lt. Cowand often scratches his head in disbelief, amazed at how a Highway 90 police department could sustain so much damage.

"Your patrol car that you parked right in the front like that is turned around and floating with the tail end of it up," he remembered.

For Waveland's police force, the last nine months haven't been easy. Almost a dozen officers turned in their badges. The ones who stayed are working out of two trailers.

"You deal with it," said the lieutenant. "You're trained, you just focus on what's the next step, how are you going to get out of this."

The Waveland lieutenant is patiently waiting for new officers to arrive, so the city's post Katrina fleet of squad cars can be sent out on patrol.

"It's been slow, slower than I thought it should be," he said.

Just about everybody in south Mississippi has had to wait at one time or another since the hurricane. In Jackson County for instance, the wait for a long time had to do with hurricane debris removal. Jackson County supervisors changed clean up teams in the middle of the clean up process. Since then, more than 90% of the hurricane debris has been removed from the area. Five point five million cubic yards of debris have been hauled out of Jackson County.

As for what got destroyed by Katrina, the updated estimate is that 1,500 Jackson County homes were completely wiped out. And 10,000 apartment dwellers and property owners around the county turned to FEMA to try to find a temporary place to call home.

Over in Long Beach, the home destruction number is more than 500. And that list includes Guy Woodward's house.

"I never thought I would be rebuilding," he said while standing on a recently cleared property.

Woodward has no choice. And neither do any of his 11 relatives. They all live in the same two block area near 4th Street. They all have homes damaged or destroyed by Katrina. And they all vow to rebuild, so they can stay together as a family in Long Beach.

"It's something that we decided," Woodward said. "We've gotta come back here. It's home."

by Brad Kessie