Monday, October 24, 2005

Holly Beach isn't there

A hurricane has a so-called "good side" and "bad side." Because of the hurricane's counterclockwise rotation, the forward-right quadrant is considered "bad." The right side not only suffers through the hurricane winds and accompanying tornadoes, it also gets assaulted by a powerful wall of ocean water called a storm surge.

Inversely, the left side of a hurricane is considered "good" because it doesn't get a wall of water. It still gets destroyed by hurricane-force winds and swarms of angry tornadoes along with blinding rain and flooding, but it's still "good" compared to "bad."

Holly Beach, La. was on the "bad side" of Hurricane Rita. The storm surge eliminated the community.

In Texas, we heard "Holly Beach isn't there." A logical mind would think it's still there, but temporarily (or permanently) underwater. Either way, it's still there.

NOAA satellite views of the area taken the day after Hurricane Rita hit showed a largely damaged area. It was underwater and debris was scattered throughout the area, but something was there.

Since Sabine Pass took a direct hit from Hurricane Rita and some structures remained, we guessed more should be present along the coast in Louisiana.

We tried several times to get into the area, but were unsuccessful. Again, the satellite views showed the road was ... not there. Until this week - almost a month after Hurricane Rita hit - no PJs had transmitted images shot inside the Holly Beach community to AP.

I had never been to the community, so I was not certain where it was. I trekked along the broken highway around the area. I guessed it must be somewhere near the old piers. As I continued to look for the area, I realized the community must have been where the damaged piers remained.

Once I pulled into the area, the magnitude of the damage still eluded me. When I started walking around the area, I gathered some visual clues about what had been there. Homes, full of memories and dreams, had rested upon now-broken piers. However, the community simply was no longer there. It had vanished in gust of wind and a wall of water.

It was particularly difficult to tackle this problem visually. As PJs, we're trained to juxtapose normal items with damaged items as visual references of "one of these things is not like the others." In Holly Beach, it wasn't as simple. Holly Beach wasn't there.

The significance of the site was the lack of anything significant. How does a PJ show what isn't? I wandered around the reclaimed beach to find what was there, but now is not.

Only heavy items remained:   toilets, some bathtubs, two tractors, a few cars, a bicycle chained to a pile of debris and a few cement slabs with broken piers. All lighter items had floated miles inland or sunk into the salty water beyond the community. Throughout it all were new signs. Names, addresses and phone numbers of property owners were scrawled on boards.

Many signs had personal pleas to government officials such as "Please don't bulldoze this slab. We will rebuild." Other lots had sand-encrusted, damaged American flags. Between the flags, markers and occasional item emerging from the sand, the area began to resemble the veterans' section of a memorial park.

Luckily everyone escaped the area with their lives or it would have been too much for most to handle. No residents were present to reclaim the items that were no longer there. There was only a PJ on a beach of washed-away dreams trying to find a way to show the reality of the surreal. Holly Beach isn't there.

Enough for now,

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

1 comment:

alice said...

Holley Beach was one of my favorite spots. Never a "clean" beach by any standards, but a nice place to visit and fish, if you were lucky enough to have a calm gulf. I feel for the people there. I had met many many nice people, mostly cajun and funloving. I have been wanting to find a lot down there for years and still do. No plans to build, never had. Just a place to hook up an old camper van for fishing weekends.