Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
All things considered, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi is looking pretty good these days. Just the fact that it still exists in any form whatsoever is quite remarkable. Hurricane Katrina, a storm that most people associate with New Orleans, was equally devastating to this part of the Mississippi coast. The small towns of Bay St. Louis and nearby Waveland were almost entirely wiped off the map by a storm surge that was larger than anyone expected. Homes and businesses weren't just damaged, they simply disappeared. Nothing escaped some sort of devastation.
But like I said, you'd barely know it now -- at least, someone like me, who hadn't seen the pre-Katrina version of the town, wouldn't know it. I don't know where all the homes used to be. I couldn't tell you what's missing.
I parked at the corner of Main and Second Street. Main Street United Methodist Church of Bay St. Louis stands on one of the corners. It's one of the few buildings that, somehow, escaped the worst of Katrina. The church lost its steeple, but the rest survived. It served as a relief center in the months that followed.
There are a few other businesses on the corners, and some of them were even open during my Sunday afternoon visit. I went in Magnolia Antiques (directly across from the church) and looked around for a while. On my way out, I picked up a brochure on the town, that proudly proclaims, "Old Town Bay St. Louis, We're Back In Business!". It lists dozens of restaurants and shops that have successfully made the seemingly impossible comeback.
Several feet of water swept into the Hancock County Court House, just a block away from the church. Its windows and doors were damaged by wind and debris, but after extensive rehab, it's as good as new.
The Hancock County Courthouse cost just $30,000 when it was built in 1903. The post-Katrina renovation cost $4.8 Million. The storm actually helped the county find the funding to restore the old courthouse to its original glory (and add on a 10,000 square foot addition).†
From downtown, it's only a couple of blocks to Bay St. Louis' waterfront. I didn't stop to take a picture, but you can see it on the dash-cam time-lapse video of the area, posted below. Plans are in the works to build a pier and harbor at the waterfront, in between the town's railroad bridge, and the US-90 bridge. As of 2009, only a few remnants of the old pier still stand.
The US 90 bridge over the mouth of St. Louis Bay was heavily damaged during Katrina. The entire road deck was pushed off the pilings. The railroad tracks were also washed out and mangled by the flood waters. (During Hurricane Camille, the storm surge didn't go past the train tracks--during Katrina, the surge flooded beyond US 90.) To appreciate the damage in Bay St. Louis, and the amazing recovery, check out these pictures.
I drove around a little more before returning to US 90, then Interstate 10. It was time to head on into New Orleans.
Mississippi Welcome Center - Stennis Space Center
I was hoping to find an internet hot spot to book a motel room in New Orleans, before heading into town, so I stopped at the Mississippi Welcome Center (even though I was getting ready to leave Mississippi at the time). I booked the room, but I also discovered this lunar lander vehicle from the Apollo program on display at the rest area. The welcome center doubles as a check-in point for the Stennis Space Center. Stennis served as a test facility, and was established in 1963 to test-fire the rockets that carried men to the moon. From the rest area, you can hop on a bus and take a tour of the nearby Stennis Space Center.
The StenniSphere, the official visitor center of the Stennis Space Center, is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the last bus departing the rest area at 2 p.m. Thanks to that limited schedule, I had to pass on a side trip to the facility.
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