GULFPORT, Miss. --
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi coast alone
could have qualified as the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
Out of 150,000
buildings, 50,000 are gone and 85,000 are damaged, said Stephen
Richer, executive director of the Gulf Coast Convention and
Some of the areas
casino barges were destroyed.
The headquarters of
Mississippis Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, which
oversees tourism marketing for Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach, Ocean
Springs and Waveland, was one of those buildings blown away by
But three months
into the rebuilding, Richer is optimistic. His optimism is being
driven primarily by two developments: a commission organized by
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to create a full-range plan for the
recovery of the Gulf Coast, and a law passed by the Mississippi
legislature Oct. 17 that makes it legal to build casinos on
Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal plans to release a
report Dec. 9 on the state of the recovery with recommendations on
how to proceed.
Tourism plays a
central role in the plans, with five subcommittees looking at
different aspects of the tourism economy.
My expectation is a
very aggressive goal set in terms of the destination, Richer said.
There is an extremely high amount of public and private investment
coming in largely because of the change in the law.
The law allows
casinos to be built within 800 feet of the water in approved sites
in the Gulf Coast area. Previously, they were required to be in the
This gives a
message to Wall Street and to the insurance industry that we can
rebuild something safer, Richer said. It will be the catalyst that
will change the investment climate.
Of the three
counties affected by the hurricane, the farther west they were the
more destruction they had.
In Jackson County,
Richer said, 61% of the rooms are open. In Harrison County, which
includes Gulfport and Biloxi, 21% of the rooms are open. In Hancock
County, 8% of the rooms are open.
Most everything is
OK on Interstate 10, Richer said. On the beachfront there is pretty
manager of tourism marketing for the Gulf Coast Convention and
Visitors Bureau, said she lost everything but the clothes on her
back to Katrina.
If you had $10
million in your pocket, it didnt mean anything, she said. You
couldnt buy anything with it. There were no stores, no gas
Its a challenge for
the CVB to decide on a message, Richer said.
On one hand, we
want to say Come on back. On the other hand, people are hungry and
cold. The messages are in conflict.
Three casinos that
suffered limited damage are slated to open around the new year. The
Palace and the Isle of Capri casino barges were both destroyed.
Both are moving their casinos into their meeting spaces, courtesy
of the new law.
The Imperial Palace
will reopen with its casino on the barge where it was before
Katrina. Most of the rooms are already reserved by the Federal
Emergency Management Agency and other emergency workers and
insurance adjusters, Richer said. Few rooms will be available until
later in 2006.
It will be a year
or two before everybody is back, Richer said.
Harvey and her
neighbors on the Gulf Coast found they had survival instincts they
never knew they had.
They just kick in,
she said. You bathe in cold water. You brush your teeth with
bottled water. You cook outside. You do a lot of things to
reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].