August 31, 2005

Unbearable Flatness

I live only an hour or so from the Pacific Ocean, but a mountain range stands between me and it. Storm surges and tsunamis aren't an issue at all. Some Oregon coastal towns are built right next to water, but many are built on top of large or small cliffs.

It's not like that at all on the Gulf Coast. Here is Marc Cooper, who was down there recently.
Just a few months ago I spent five days in Biloxi and Gulfport. As I drove the coastal highway I was jarred by the flatness of it all.

Here in Southern California the Pacific Coast Highway is almost always elevated from from the beach. Much of the coast is lined with sloping rises and even palisades that offer at least the illusion of protection.

But as I drove up and down that Mississippi strip of road the flat, gulf waters on one side of the car looked to be absolutely level with the city on the other. Only a small sliver of beach stood in between. I wondered what could keep an elevated tide from simply flooding everything and everyone in its path.

The answer, apparently, was nothing.
devastation.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 31, 2005 01:51 PM

Comments

I took that trip 3 years ago in March (a 10 day road trip heading out from NC). Across the mountains to the the Natchez Trace (very disappointing cause of the flatness and cause I imagined something like the incomparable Blue Ridge Parkway!!) from Nashville to Natchez (charming antebellum city) with side stops at Tupelo, Miss (saw Elvis' tiny birth home) and Vicksburg (looks like it never recovered from the Civil War), then down into LA Bayou country (all those parishes instead of counties!) down to Grand Isle, up through NO (hands down best US city for Cartier-Bresson wanna-be street photographers) then along the coast to Biloxi and Mobile, AL, before heading back north. I had an image in my mind of Biloxi, imagining some 1940's stately coast town but it was, I'm sorry to say, ugly as hell - a tacky, gambling city. However, just west of Biloxi was the totally charming town of Pass Christian, with stately Gulf waterfront homes to rival Charleston and it was the Biloxi of my imagination. Pass Christian was wiped out I hear. I have to say, now I'm really glad I did see it all although the trip wasn't terribly scenic (except for Natchez, New Orleans, Pass Christian, and the occasional antebellum plantation). It was, as Marc Cooper says, incredibly flat, as well as treeless (aside from the occasional live oak), and poor as hell, the MS river was dead and sluggish, and LA was largely memorable for its landscape of oil refineries and associated paraphernalia. One thing for sure - this is not an area of the country that can afford the devastation that has hit it.

Posted by: Caroline at August 31, 2005 04:59 PM

"I wondered what could keep an elevated tide from simply flooding everything and everyone in its path."

I thought the same thing when I was stationed at Keesler AFB last year. When I took the tour at the Jefferson Davis home, it was pointed out how the house had been raised to protect against flooding, because the house was literally right by the coast. The home, and all the historic artifacts that were there, are all but gone now.
New Orleans is going through hell right now, and its going to take Biloxi about as long to recover as well. It's just unbelievably sad.

Posted by: Chris at September 1, 2005 11:46 PM

Are you sure you'd be safe from a tsunami? Portland is only 75 feet above sea level, and the Columbia river goes right through downtown and opens up to floodplains just west of the city...

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