I board a plane to Hattiesburg, Miss., tomorrow (Thursday) to bring you reports from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
For the next week or so, I'll be filing columns, news reports and blog updates from the scene, chronicling the staggering task of helping the Coast recover from what seems certain to be known as the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.
As many of you know, I have strong ties to the area. I worked at the Biloxi Sun Herald from 1982 until 1996 and have an intimate knowledge of the Coast from Waveland to Gautier and all points in between. While I grew up in north Mississippi, an area little affected by the hurricane, my wife (now ex-wife) grew up in Gulfport. Almost all of her family still call the Coast home.
I hope to bring you stories not only of the human struggle to cope and carry on, but also of the relief workers, including East Valley fire fighters and rescue workers in their bid to help the area recovering from this most staggering of blows.
As I have followed the news reports, my heart continues to sink. The Coast's most familiar landmarks are, for the most part, all gone. Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis - built in the mid 1800s - was a victim, smashed to splinters by the unfathomable storm surge. Likewise, many of the grand old homes, some built at the turn of the century, are merely rubble. I do not the fate of Mary Mahoney's Old French House, the Coast's most famous restaurant. The restaurant was located in a building built by French settlers in 1736. I fear the worst, though, for it is located in the Point Cadet area of Biloxi, one of the spots most affected by the storm.
I intend to update this blog tomorrow evening after I've had a chance to look around Hattiesburg a bit. Hattiesburg, 70 miles north of the Coast, had its own share of destruction, but stands as the staging area for relief efforts from the nearby Mississippi National Guard headquarters at Camp Shelby.