Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wooly Booger Lessons

With the Alabama-Mississippi-Louisiana Gulf coast still picking through its Hurricane Katrina debris, Hattiesburg reporter Reuben Mees today takes a look at Pensacola Beach to find recovery lessons for his Mississippi readers. The result isn't pretty, as locals know all too well.

Pensacola Beach, he warns, remains in bad shape more than a year after Hurricane Ivan:
Heaping mounds of twisted metal and wood line Via De Luna Drive - the main thoroughfare in what was once a prime destination for tourists from across the country.

Mountains of sand, triple the height of the construction debris, accumulate on the once pristine beaches.

A visitor may think it's been only weeks since the last hurricane hit the area, but in reality, it has been three months. That was Hurricane Dennis.

Much of the wreckage, however, was the result of the much more intense Hurricane Ivan that mauled the area more than a year ago.

And while significant progress has been made in the past year, the island still has a long way to go, said Debbie Norton, environmental and developmental services manager for the Santa Rosa Island Authority.
SRIA leasing manager Debbie Norton told Mees, "[W]e lost at least 50 percent of our hotel rooms. Those that were destroyed, it will be at least two years before they're back. But not having enough contractors, the rebuild effort is probably going to take us more like four or five years."

Mees' sobering point: "That formula could apply to many of the casinos and hotels along the Mississippi Gulf Coast that were decimated by Hurricane Katrina just more than a month ago."

There's more, particularly about the dramatically changing demographics on Pensacola Beach:
"I've lived here 20 1/2 years right in this house," said Panferio Drive resident Richard Irvine as he walked his dogs amid the ruins of his neighborhood. "This is going to change the nature of the beach."

His biggest fear is the loss of the "wooly boogers," a name a sheriff's deputy gave to the locals who lived basically month-to-month.

It eventually became a somewhat endearing term that united the denizens of the beach community, but those people are starting to disappear from the island.

"The sale prices went sky high after Ivan," Irvine said. "Now all the old wooly boogers will be gone and the people from up North will move in and develop the area."

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