On the Hurricane Trail

Impassible trail due to Hurricane Michael at Florida River Island Campground in the Apalachicola National Forest.

December 17, 2019.

Soon after we entered Florida back in November we started hearing about Hurricane Michael. A category 5 hurricane, Michael, hit the Panhandle back in October of 2018. We first saw scenes of Michael’s aftermath at our second campsite in the Apalachicola National Forest. The site had only been reopened for about a week and there were still many downed trees and broken fences. As we toured the small towns along the Forgotten Coast we heard first-hand accounts of the storm from almost everyone we met.

Even after we got out of Michael territory hurricanes seemed to be a part of people’s everyday vernacular. In Pensacola, the 2004 Hurricane Ivan was mentioned. And when we hit the coast of Mississippi it was Hurricane Katrina.

You may only associate Katrina with the debacle that happened in New Orleans but the actual epicenter of the storm was in Waveland Mississippi. The storm devastated this small town. The only historical building to stand in Waveland after the hurricane is now a museum documenting Katrina and it’s consequences. We had to visit.

And traveling along the Mississippi Gulf on the way to Waveland reminders of the storm dot the medians that split Highway 90. Live Oak Trees decimated by the storm have been sculpted into works of art. You know I had to see those too.

The city of Apalachicola was hit hard. Many businesses remain closed.
We were told the cost of hurricane insurance for this Baptist church was so high the congregation opted not to cover the buildings. The roof damage makes the church unusable. Note the steeple lying on the sidewalk (14 months after the storm).
Mexico Beach used to be lined with houses. Here you can see what remains, just the piles the houses used to sit on. RVs and fifth wheels replace homes in barren lots. And almost every building that still stands has a dumpster parked in front of it.
Highway 98 west from Mexico Beach is flanked by trees that were snapped in half by Hurricane Michael.
The beach area of Panama City with all of the miniature golf courses and hotels seemed almost as if they were untouched by the storm but many parts of the city are still trying to recover.

Katrina Trees and “Angels in the Bay”

The Katrina Tree project was started in 2007 when the city of Biloxi hired chainsaw artist, Dayton Scoggins, to transform the standing dead trees in the median of Beach Boulevard into works of art depicting the local sea life. Inspired by the project sculptor Marlin Miller from nearby Fort Walton Beach took over volunteering his time and talent to thank the city for their help in his city’s recovery from Hurricane Ivan. Marlin has sculpted at least 50 of these trees.

Because I love public art and wanted to see every tree carved, I searched for detailed information about the location of all the trees. Initially, all the internet told me was that the sculptures were located along Highway 90. And much more searching I finally found out that a map of the sculptures could be picked up at the Biloxi Visitor’s Center.

We picked up the map. It was some help but overall not very detailed so we headed out down the highway with our eyes peeled. Not all of the sculptures are located on the highway so there was no way to spot those but I think we may have found most of the trees along Beach Boulevard. I have made my own map of the ones we spotted.

Also included in my map are the “Angles in the Bay” tree sculptures in downtown Bay St. Louis carved by Dayle K. Lewis. We didn’t locate all the “Angles” but a description of where they can be located can be found here.

* Helpful hint! If you decide to look for the sculptures yourself the easiest way to see them is to travel from west to east. Parking is only available on the southside of the median. If you travel like we did, east to west, you will have to constantly make u-turns to park in order to get out and walk up to the trees.

Waveland’s Ground Zero Hurricane Museum

This is a free museum which we happily gave a donation to. We were greeted by a volunteer who told us about the devastation Katrina caused to this small town, explained the history of the building that now houses the museum and took us on a mini-tour of the exhibits before letting us explore on our own.

The building that houses the museum was originally built as the Waveland Elementary School in 1927. It was the only historic structure left standing in Waveland after the storm which destroyed everything else on the street where it’s located. Renovation of the building had actually begun before Katrina hit in 2000, continued in 2005 after the storm and was completed in 2009.
Hallway into the museum. The blue line running down the walls over the doorways marks the 8-foot water line during Katrina. The quilts hanging across the top of the hallway were created by quiltmaker Solveig Wells. She created these quilts from fabric recovered from her flooded home, fabric found buried on the beach, and from the ruins of Miss Ann’s collectibles shop in Old Town Bay St Louis.  In 2014, after Solveig’s death, her husband donated these “Recovery Quilts” to the museum. For a better look at all the quilts click here.
Quilted self-portrait, Solveig Wells.
The exhibit “Backyards and Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories” includes paintings by Mississippi artist, H.C. Porter paired with field recordings collected by Karole Sessums of individual Mississippians two weeks after the storm. Lifesize photos of foundation slabs taken one year after the storm by H.C. Porter & Gretchen Haien tile the floor of this room.
T-shirts made into a quilt form and signed by volunteers who came to Waveland to help with the clean-up after the hurricane.
In another room, a short documentary tells the story of several Mississippi Katrina survivors. The man in this article with the bike and his dog Rocky decided to sit the storm out in Waveland. He survived being swept away by floodwaters almost losing Rocky. Unfortunately, his mother who left Waveland for higher ground in Bay St. Louis didn’t make it.
Although the cafeteria of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast University suffered major damage, the dinnerware survived and was rescued from the rubble. The plates were given to elementary and high school students to use as a canvas to represent Katrina, community, culture, entertainment, and music.
Also on display at the museum are costumes from the Krewe of Nereids, a women’s krewe started in the old Waveland drug store in 1966. The gold dress is from the very first ball in 1966.

2 thoughts on “On the Hurricane Trail

  1. Of course, you had to see the wooden sculptures and museum! 🙂 The sculptures are amazing!! Did you find and photograph all 50-somethings?

    I actually had not heard of hurricane Michael… There have been so many catastrophic hurricanes – in the US and Caribbean – that I can’t keep track. I’m trying to the remember the ones that had an impact on our own or our friends’ lives and we’re getting up to five already.

    Interestingly enough, natural disasters were not a part of my growing up and life in Belgium… None of that there. The worst I ever experienced as a teenager was an earthquake in the middle of the night.

    1. No, we didn’t find all of the sculptures – just the ones along the Beach Boulevard. There was one in the previous town we had been in but I didn’t know that until we picked up the map in Biloxi.

      I think we had heard of Michael but you are right – there are just so many natural disasters these days that it is hard to keep up. We have had a few friends and family to through hurricanes too. What I think was surprising was actually seeing the damage. There are hurricanes all the time on the East coast of Florida but I have never seen the aftermath of one – especially over a year later.

      Belgium must be in a sweet spot. Where I grew up in the Midwest we had tornadoes and small earthquakes. The tornadoes could do a lot of damage.

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