Katrina's Surge, Part 14

A Weather Underground 16 part series about Hurricane Katrina, by Margie Kieper.

For this first week of September, we continue to travel the coastline destroyed by Hurricane Katrina's record storm surge. This is something that has never been shown on the news or talked about, either in the overall, or in detail. What you'll be seeing here is what people on the Gulf Coast have been calling the “Invisible Coastline” for almost a year now.

Today we look at the section of western Jackson County that runs from Ocean Springs to Gautier. This includes large subdivisions in unincorporated areas of the county, including Gulf Park Estates, which was isolated by flooding, a second time, by Rita's surge, and Ocean Beach Estates, which includes St. Andrews and Belle Fountaine.

From Google Maps, the location of this area along the Gulf of Mexico coastline impacted by Katrina:

Ocean Springs, Jackson County, MS

Image courtesy of Google Maps

The surge in this coastal area ran from 20 feet on the west to 18 feet on the east, with significant wave run-up along the shoreline, due to the topography. This area, like many areas along the Mississippi coastline, was completely inundated almost up to Interstate 10. Here, a mapquest image shows the specific communities, and a portion of the FEMA surge inundation overview shows the area that was affected by surge – basically, the entire coastal community.

The main reason the coast along both Hancock and Jackson counties was hit so hard was that surge came so far inland, due to the topography of these counties, there were no inland communities that did not get destroyed by surge; subsequently there were no inland resources in these counties to provide shelter, police cars, fire trucks, clean water, food, etc. County resources were simply gone. In Jackson County, even communities that were not directly on the coast, such as Vancleave and Escatawpa, were completely flooded, because of the extent of the flooding in Jackson County. There was no location you could drive to where homes were spared, grocery stores and banks were available. There were no gas stations to fill up once you ran out of gas, to be able to go anywhere – but most vehicles were damaged by the salty surge anyway and not recoverable. So there was very little available transportation to go anywhere to get help, even if there had been anywhere to go. The coast was almost completely isolated.

One of the things that you notice right away about the evacuation plan for Jackson County, is that every main road is on the plan as an evacuation route. In other words, there aren't that many roads in the county, and I-10, which runs east-west, just inland from the coast, is really the only main road, although there are back roads that run throughout the county (many areas would have been impassable due to surge).

Mapquest – Ocean Springs to Gautier

Image courtesy of Mapquest

FEMA Jackson County, MS surge inundation detail

Image courtesy of FEMA

It is really a key part of visualizing the situation the county found itself in after the hurricane passed through, because while the county does go inland some ways beyond the coast, inland quite a bit of the land is marshland or forest, with no easy access.

It is worth mentioning again, as was detailed in an earlier blog entry, that building along the water or along inland rivers and lakes, is not just the case in these three Mississippi counties, and not just the case in Mississippi, but it is the case in all fifty states, and not just in the US, but around the world. Approximately two-thirds of the land in the US has had Presidental declarations of disaster for aid for flooding four or more times.

So the extensive flooding from surge in this area completely affected and isolated these communities, as it did all the coastal communities, and in some places, especially in Hancock County, it was a matter of days before even the most basic help would be able to make it into the area.

As I reviewed the images for this stretch of shoreline, using the USGS aerials taken shortly after the storm, I found an endless stretch of ruined, gutted houses, and debris washed inland, all very difficult to view low-contrast images due to the overcast sky at the time. Out of the many, many images I pulled about twenty, out of about 160 total, listed under Ocean Springs, Belle Fountaine, and Gautier. But to print even a small portion of those twenty here would be way too many, and one of the things that I noticed was that viewed from a distance, houses looked almost normal, but if I downloaded the image and zoomed in, the damage was horrific; homes with the first floor gutted as the surge pushed through, streets and lawns a couple blocks in, clogged with fifteen-foot-high piles of debris, which were the remains of the coastal houses from the first couple blocks of the beach, which had been completely pulverized by the oncoming surge and by waves. And this went on and on for image after image. I've provided the links to the USGS images.

I don't know how to winnow down this set of images to try to convey with any sense of reality just how demolished this stretch of coastline was, so very far from the landfall point of this hurricane. If there was any kind of difference at all in this destruction and what we have seen in installment after installment of this blog series, it is that twenty feet of surge did not do as much damage as twenty-five feet of surge; that this made the difference between leaving a home on its foundations and some of the second floor intact, vs. leaving a slab and a higher pile of debris (and there were plenty of slabs here, again with nothing left on them except piers). But this is small consolation as these homes were effectively destroyed anyway, and there was really no way to save anything before mold set in.

Here are a couple of the USGS images, and details from the images. In this one, which was one of the few where the sun was out, at first the image looks perfectly normal and peaceful, with a few boats moored in the inlet:

USGS aerial image

Image courtesy of USGS

But if you look closely then you see that the homes are shot through from surge, and debris is on the ground:

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

And in this one, you may notice the St. Andrews decorative lighthouse has been flattened:

USGS aerial image

Image courtesy of USGS

But you may not notice that there are a row of slabs, a roof lying on the ground to the right, and the remaining houses are gutted by surge and have become repositories for the debris of the houses that used to face them across the street:

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

Or, in this image, you may see a couple of slabs:

USGS aerial image

Image courtesy of USGS

In a close-up, you can see the debris all over the ground and in the trees:

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

But did you notice the set of front steps leading to nowhere?

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

And, the debris field pushed up to the house further back in the street?

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

This used to be a multi-story apartment complex on Front Beach; after the storm this is what was left:

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

And here is how the boats were left after surge ran back into the harbor:

USGS aerial image detail

Image courtesy of USGS

Here is a photo of what that looked like from a closer vantage point:

Ocean Springs harbor damage

And very close up:

Ocean Springs harbor damage Ocean Springs harbor damage Ocean Springs harbor damage

Images courtesy of city of Ocean Springs

I feel that with so much destruction, I've come to an impasse in trying to portray it in a way that conveys the completeness and horror of what occurred. I didn't find any stories about people along this particular stretch of coastline, after much research. I've run out of new and interesting ways to present the carnage and annihilation of surge damage. I do know that many people in this area did stay in their homes during the storm, and rode out the surge. As an example, according to this online news article from WLOX:

Like most everyone on Evelyn Drive, Wanda Denham and her family rode out Hurricane Katrina in her home.

The storm took two lives here, left everyone homeless, and left the neighborhood with a new view of the Ocean Springs Coastline.

"It just amazes me that the Gulf of Mexico came in here like that," says Denham.

I don't have an explanation for that, as Evelyn Drive is just one street in from the coast, and also backs up to a bayou, which effectively put it right on the coast as far as surge inundation:

Evelyn Drive, Ocean Springs

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Here's a couple of close-up views of what the first floors of many of these coastal homes looked like after the surge went through (the first image was called “new view”):

surge first floor damage surge first floor damage

Images courtesy of city of Ocean Springs

But to me this is the most compelling image, as it is the first one I have seen of the inside of a home after it has been filled with briny sewage-and-oil-laden water:

inside after surge

Here are a number of images from the Ocean Springs web site, of Ocean Springs and the surrounding unincorporated areas. First, the historical downtown residential area of Jackson Avenue (you'll be able to note the exposed building details marking the type of historical construction):

OS Jackson Avenue damage – off Front Beach OS Jackson Avenue damage – off Front Beach OS Jackson Avenue damage OS Jackson Avenue damage OS Jackson Avenue damage OS Jackson Avenue damage Ocean Springs Jackson Ave damage

Typical of the East Beach area:

East Beach damage

These images are of the St. Martin area:

St. Martin damage St. Martin damage

More damage from this general area:

Ocean Springs area damage Ocean Springs area damage Ocean Springs area damage Ocean Springs area damage

I couldn't help but notice the hand-crocheted floral afghan hanging in the tree in the above image.

Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge:

Weather Underground Storm Surge Articles

Storm Surge Safety Actions

  • Minimize the distance you must travel to reach a safe location; the further you drive the higher the likelihood of encountering traffic congestion and other problems on the roadways.

  • Select the nearest possible evacuation destination, preferably within your local area, and map out your route. Do not get on the road without a planned route, or a place to go.

  • Choose the home of the closest friend or relative outside a designated evacuation zone and discuss your plan with them before hurricane season.

  • You may also choose a hotel/motel outside of the vulnerable area.

  • If neither of these options is available, consider the closest possible public shelter, preferably within your local area.

  • Use the evacuation routes designated by authorities and, if possible, become familiar with your route by driving it before an evacuation order is issued.

  • Contact your local emergency management office to register or get information regarding anyone in your household whom may require special assistance in order to evacuate.

  • Prepare a separate pet plan, most public shelters do not accept pets.

  • Prepare your home prior to leaving by boarding up doors and windows, securing or moving indoors all yard objects, and turning off all utilities.

  • Before leaving, fill your car with gas and withdraw extra money from the ATM.

  • Take all prescription medicines and special medical items, such as glasses and diapers.

  • If your family evacuation plan includes an RV, boat or trailer, leave early. Do not wait until the evacuation order or exodus is well underway to start your trip.

  • If you live in an evacuation zone and are ordered to evacuate by state or local officials, do so as quickly as possible. Do not wait or delay your departure, to do so will only increase your chances of being stuck in traffic, or even worse, not being able to get out at all.

  • Expect traffic congestion and delays during evacuations. Expect and plan for significantly longer travel times than normal to reach your family's intended destination.

  • Stay tuned to a local radio or television station and listen carefully for any advisories or specific instructions from local officials. Monitor your NOAA Weather Radio.

Source: NOAA