We typically leave Ohio in February but this year a change in our usual circumstances meant we were able to leave home earlier. The Florida campground we stay in had no vacancies in January, so I started looking elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico and found Buccaneer Bay State Park in Waveland Mississippi. Waveland is near Gulfport and close to the Louisiana border. There was something about Waveland that rang a bell in my memory at the time I made reservations, but I wasn’t sure why it would.
The Gulf had a busy hurricane season this year. Most recently Hurricane Zeta blew through Waveland in late October damaging trees and blowing off roofs in the area. Buccaneer Bay, despite its goofy theme-park name is a beautiful state park located right on the Gulf, with miles of beautiful white sand beaches. We noticed the oak trees in the park had the same sheared look we observed on the oaks in Port St. Joe after hurricane Michael in 2018. The wind leaves behind little tufts of leaf clusters at the ends of the sturdier branches, making them look as if they had poodle cuts.
On our first drive through Waveland I noticed the usual signs of hurricane damage, but some of it was obviously older. Homes were draped with blue tarps. Most of the tarps were bright and new, but there were many others that had obviously been laid years ago; the tarps frayed, and buildings beneath them were in serious disrepair. Driving into Waveland you navigate a railroad bed that bisects the town. It’s banked up high, almost like it was constructed on top of a levee. Large trucks and RVs are obliged to drive a few miles to a major highway intersection to get across town for deliveries and services, as the steep embankment prohibits long wheelbases and tag axles. I would learn later that the tracks were an important landmark in Waveland.
On a rainy afternoon I was looking for something to do when I happened on a brochure for the ‘Ground Zero Museum.’ I realized why I was familiar with the name of the town. In 2005 hurricane Katrina’s eyewall made landfall at Waveland. So much of Katrina coverage focused on New Orleans and larger towns along the Gulf that tiny Waveland had barely been a blip on the news. The Ground Zero Museum commemorated the terrible loss of the community.
Katrina’s storm surge took out not only all of Waveland that was ahead of the railroad tracks, it wiped out all that lay beyond the railroad bed. A local told me that they had never had water breach the tracks in recorded time. Katrina pushed a 26 foot wall of water 9 miles inland. 26 feet of water translates into roughly three stories. The town was nearly wiped off the map. 50 souls were lost in the storm. This is not the first time Waveland had to redevelop after a devastating hurricane. In August 17, 1969 Hurricane Camille roared through nearby Bay St. Louis and Waveland, wiping much of it away. After Katrina in 2005 the city was working to recover economically until a setback from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in 2010. It’s tough to be a coastal town in any situation, but the only choice is to give up or fight back. To this day, Waveland is fighting back. You can measure the fight in blue tarps and front yards piled with new lumber, the sounds of saws, nail guns and earth movers, new shops and coastal homes erected on pylons approaching two stories. They are tough, but the days of building at sea level are over.
I included a few photos from the museum. Most touching to me was an art installation of quilt panels made by Solevig Wells. Hurricanes distribute the possessions of people for miles in a debris path that is hard to contemplate if you’ve never seen it. Cloth and similar debris sticks to every tree and object, in whole pieces and tiny shreds. Ms. Wells started a project making quilt panels from the bits and pieces of fabric she collected out of the debris path and made 55 panels dedicated to the survivors. The panels are hung throughout the museum. Heartbreakingly beautiful, the pieces made me recall the memorial quilt for people who had lost their lives to AIDS.
Ground Zero exhibits feature many pieces of art, artifacts and memories that celebrate what Waveland was before Katrina changed everything. There are two bronze signs in front of the museum, both cards of thanks from the citizens to all the people who . One is from 1969 and the other from 2005. We took a few pictures, and there are links below for you to check out if you’d like to learn more.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a beautiful place to spend some time, check out Buccaneer Bay state park. Visit Waveland, get donuts at King’s Donuts or Granny’s, and visit the Ground Zero Museum. They’d like you to remember what Waveland was like and envision what it will become.
For a full catalog of Solveig’s Katrina recovery quilts, click this link: http://www.katrinarecoveryquilts.org
For more about the extraordinary quilter that was Solevig Wells, here is her website: http://www.solveigsquilts.com