Mississippi coast businesses devastated

The Hard Rock hotel and casino is destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi
The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Miss., was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The hotel and casino were scheduled to have its grand opening Wednesday. Marc Serota / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

From the coin-spitting slot machines to the stately Southern beach cottages, Mississippi’s coastline has long been the economic driver for the entire state. But every industry along the coast has been devastated by Hurricane Katrina in a way that will take years, if not decades, to recover.

Hotels collapsed into rubble and flashy casinos were tossed across highways. Shrimping boats were violently slammed into land. Shipyards were heavily damaged, oil rigs were destroyed.

In the short term, survivors are concerned with caring for the injured, burying the dead and restoring the basics of water, food, power and communications. In the long term, many are worried that the storm has made the area uninhabitable.

“I lost everything. We can’t even find my car,” said Landon Williams, a 19-year-old construction worker in Biloxi whose apartment complex collapsed, killing several neighbors. “I’m looking through this wreckage to see if I can find anything that’s mine. If not. I’m moving on. I can’t take it here any more — not after this.”

About 14,000 people work in the dozen casinos along the Mississippi coastline. Each casino has a land-based hotel, and thousands more work in those. All were closed and some were damaged beyond repair.

Losses: $500,000 a day
State Gaming Commission director Larry Gregory said the state loses about $500,000 in tax revenue each day the coastal casinos are closed.

In 2004, Mississippi Tax Commission figures showed casino revenues statewide — including the coast casinos and others along the Mississippi River — were $2.7 billion, behind only Nevada and New Jersey.

Another hard-hit area was at the Northrop Grumman shipyards in Gulfport and Pascagoula, which employ 12,000 people in the state.

Every city on the coast took heavy damage, but Waveland, a beach town of 7,000 that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Camille in 1969, had some of the worst, with nearly every building leveled by a storm surge that pushed debris more than a mile from the beach.

“Total devastation. There’s nothing left,” said Brian Mollere, sitting in a makeshift camp on the site where his jewelry store stood until Monday morning. “Waveland was a beautiful town. It had just bounced back from Camille. They were planning new streets. People were buying new homes.”

Governor pledges to rebuild
Other cities were also damaged, and it was hard for anyone to imagine the scope of the rebuilding.

“It’s beyond imagination,” Gov. Haley Barbour said. “I never thought I’d see something that looks worse than Camille, but this looks worse than Camille.”

The governor said the recovery process would be long.

“We’re going to rebuild the coast bigger and better than ever,” he said. “But it’s not going to get done next month. It’s probably not going to get finished next year. It’s going to be a long time. We’re in it for the long haul.”