The first storm of the season whips up a surge much higher than predicted. Although it causes minimal damage - to the relief of all - beaches will be closed for 30 days for cleanup.
- story by Ellis Anderson
- photos by Ellis Anderson unless otherwise attributed. Many thanks to Kasey Marie, Morales Parker, and Suzanne Gavin
The official NOAA buoy at the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club registered a 7.5 foot storm surge. A midday high tide added to the impacts, flooding some Bay-Waveland neighborhoods and many roads.
On Monday, intermittent squalls were still tearing across the Mississippi coast, when we spoke with Bay St. Louis Councilman-at-Large, Gary Knoblock. He said Cristobal was “a lot more impactful than predicted.”
“In my opinion, for a tropical storm, a devastating amount of water came in,” he said. “During the storm I couldn’t even get into the Cedar Point area, the water was too high. And we had a good bit of flooding in Wards 5 and 6.
"Many people were stranded in their houses, waiting for the water to recede. We lost some cars to flooding, too. Downtown at the harbor, it looked like the south wall was getting a pounding, but that the breakwater was doing its job.”
Chuck Fortin, Bay St. Louis Harbormaster, said Monday that despite the “pounding,” there was no significant damage at the harbor. “It was definitely worse weather than what was predicted,” Fortin said.
“A few boats rubbed against pilings and a couple of sails ripped, but the harbor itself came through without a scratch. The wave screen definitely kept the action down and helped mitigate the damage.”
Artist/photographer Kat Fitzpatrick, who lives in the Cedar Point area, rode out the storm alone in her historic cottage. Her electricity went off early in the day, but Mississippi Power crews got it up and running within the hour. Around midday, a transformer outside her home blew, again leaving her without power, this time until evening.
“I discovered that I’m quite attached to electricity,” Fitzpatrick said the next day, laughing. “There’s nothing like having no power as it’s getting dark, and the wind is high and branches are falling.”
Fitzpatrick is known for her daily sunrise expeditions to photograph landscapes that she shares with a large social media following. On Monday morning, she drove through her neighborhood for an informal assessment. Although parts of the beach road were still under water, she saw few visible signs of damage – here and there a few pieces of piers had been ripped away. Fitzpatrick noted debris lines marking the surge’s high point seemed much higher than usual for a tropical storm.
Meteorologist Wesley Williams from WLOX shared this view from the Silver Slipper Casino Hotel. The first few moments shows an extraordinary number of Magnificent Frigatebirds, creatures that spend their lives at sea and only appear here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during coastal storms.
Bay St. Louis’s sister city of Waveland to the west, located at a slightly lower elevation, experienced more flooding. Dramatic drone video footage shot at the height of the storm surge and posted soon after garnered over 100,000 views. It ricocheted across social media platforms.
However, photos posted from the same time frame only two blocks away showed streets that were “high and dry.”
Mayor Mike Smith of Waveland pointed out that the beach road at Coleman Avenue has an elevation of 5.5 feet and that on Coleman Avenue, where the city hall, Studio Waveland and the Ground Zero Museum are located, the water covered the road for the first block, to Arlington Street, leaving the buildings untouched.
On the Waveland beachfront there was no significant damage to the Garfield Ladner Pier, the recently completed light house or to the Veterans Memorial. Mayor Smith says the lighthouse elevator is the most vulnerable part, but it “parks” at the top automatically when it’s not used for more than twenty minutes. Water that floods the shaft doesn’t permanently damage the mechanisms.
The Veterans Memorial itself is circled with sheet piling, which the mayor credits for protecting the small park. The process involves driving sheets of steel into the earth like pier pilings.
Mayor Smith recently posted on his Facebook page a rendering of possible development options for that low-lying, but popular area of Waveland. The rendering shows a marina with boat launch and shopping/restaurant area. It’s been referred to as a “boardwalk” although it would be built from concrete and elevated on 22-foot pilings.
The mayor said Waveland is the only city on the Mississippi coast without a marina and that a small one has been on the drawing board for years, while the “boardwalk” is just in a preliminary conceptual phase. The mayor is looking for public input on both. He has already gotten hundreds of shares, comments and emails, “nothing but positive feedback.’’
The height of the conceptual development would allow water to flow beneath during storms, much like it did with the lighthouse in Cristobal. The mayor pointed out that the height of the lighthouse doesn’t deter visitors, who find it attractive for the vistas it offers. It’s already become a popular spot to exchange marriage vows; the mayor said he’s already officiated at two lighthouse weddings.
“There’s a lot of possibilities here,” said Mayor Smith.
Along the beach, from Waveland to Bayou Cadet, some damage was apparent. So much marsh grass washed in from the barrier islands, officials estimate that it will take at least 30 days to clean the beaches. Large numbers of seabirds, some displaced from island marshes because of the storm, rested and hunted for food on the beds of washed up grass.
At the end of the beach road in Bayou Cadet, the Silver Slipper Casino was open. Cars were driving to and from it over sand-covered roads. Work crews were busy setting things right.
We'd seen photos of the Lakeshore neighborhood just inland from the casino, shot by Kasey Marie on Lambert Lane that showed the area under water. The water levels had returned to normal though. Across the coast, communities were cleaning up, feeling gratitude that it wasn't worse, and hoping that was the only storm of the season.
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