Friday, August 31, 2007

Katrina Two Years Later: Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores was supposed to be where our hotel rooms were located. That was a three hour drive from our shelter where we worked, on a good day. Most days, due to gas shortages, road blocks, construction and just pain damage from Katrina were bad days. On bad days the drive was five hours one way. So, I stayed the first night, three nights later and on my last night in Alabama. The rest of the time I slept on a cot, in the kitchen of the church that hosted our shelter.

The hotel at Gulf Shores was beautiful. There were tropical birds in large bamboo cages in the entryway. The hotel faced the beach and the beach was beautiful. It went on forever, the water was aquamarine and warm as bath water. Gulls and palm trees were everywhere. Unfortunately, the palm trees had no branches.

The hotel however was barely functioning. It had just reopened. This was the third time the roof had been repaired in two years. Hurricanes, Charlie, Ivan and now Katrina had ripped off the roof and damaged the electrical system. After I returned home the hotel was again hit by Hurricane Rita.

Our rooms were packed, more people than beds. However, it would have been so wrong to complain, we had rooms and running water and we knew where our families were.

The entire area had been hit hard. Hotels and shops were destroyed. Boats were on the road. Amusement parks and museums were closed. The National Guard closed entire section of the area. And then there were the gators. The gator parks had been damaged and gators were lose. I hate that!

The area did have some nice restaurants that were beginning to open. My last night I was taken to dinner by some supervisors who liked our work. They took us to Lula’s Homeport owned by Lucy Buffett, sister of Jimmy Buffett. The restaurant was lit up with garden lights and it sat next to the Intercoastal Waterway. So as we ate giant barges slowly moved past us. It was a great setting to appreciate one another.

It was clear that during normal times the area was a tourist haven. Hotels and restaurants on the gulf, swamp forest on the other side of the road. Water parks and art colonies. And then there was the souvenir shop whose entrance way was a giant shark head. I did make sure I walked through that a number of times.

We were told by locals that all of the development over the past couple of decades was a mistake. One guy told me, “You don’t build anything on the beach you can afford to lose”. Good advice. There was a lot lost. If we drove north to Mobile the roads and bridges were damaged. If we drove east to Florida homes and towns were damaged. if we drove west to Mississippi the devastation was catastrophic.

All in all the area was a tease. It hinted at a beautiful time while only complicating our lives. I avoided it.


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