The Mississippi Gulf Coast was well into its hurricane recovery when the Deep Water Horizon exploded and oil started gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a blow the struggling region didn’t need – headlines flashing around the world about oil washing up on beaches as they were getting ready to launch into summer holiday season.
Well, we’re in the Gulfport-Biloxi region now and there was no oil anywhere to be found as we walked along the beach yesterday.
Bartender Mark at our hotel told us all the skimming crews packed up and left several weeks ago as they couldn’t find any more oil to clean up. They hunted oil by helicopter, he told us, and when they found it, they’d radio crews in boats who would head to that spot and clean it up.
Tourism is definitely down, Mark says, although his hotel was filled with correspondents and media crews for much of the spring when they came to town to cover the story.
What’s hurting the region now, he says, is Obama’s drilling moratorium. The US government’s halt on further drilling has idled many operations and thrown thousands out of work. And these are folks who buy cars, groceries and other items, so their unemployment is felt by everyone in the region as that economic spinoff of the oil sector decreases.
The memories of Hurricane Katrina run deep here. Gulfport-Biloxi took the brunt of the storm as the Category 5 behemoth made landfall on August 29, 2005. Much of the world’s media attention post-Katrina was focused on the disaster in New Orleans about 90 miles (approx. 145 km) west of here, but the destruction and devastation the storm brought upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast was deep and widespread.
Our hotel is right on the beach and in the lobby, there’s a line on the wall just underneath the ceiling of the ground floor. It marks how high the water flooded the building during Katrina – 28ft and 10 in (8.78 metres).
Houses and businesses are still being rebuilt, even as preparations are underway to mark the five year anniversary of the storm, but many lots stand empty, leaving you to wonder what might once have stood there before the hurricane washed it away.
But despite its current troubles and its ongoing reconstruction, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a beautiful region with gorgeous beaches and lots to do. And as everyone here keeps telling us, they’re open for business!