‘Katrina Resurrection’

GULFPORT

Historians and preservationists are here for “Katrina Resurrection,” a first-hand opportunity to explore the Coast.

This weekend’s Mississippi Historical Society conference spotlights the Coast as the state’s appealing front yard but also the 2005 storm’s ground zero.

Historians are studying long stretches of land wiped clean but also modest homes and historic landmarks restored by $26 million in preservation grants.

They are learning that recovery from the hurricane is slow and sometimes frustrating.

“I challenge you to meet here again next year and you will see a world of difference on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel said Friday.

The conference is at the Courtyard Marriott, which was the Beachfront Holiday Inn when Katrina hit.

Storm chasers made the hotel famous when they filmed the Katrina surge washing a passenger-less car through the front doors.

Six minutes of that film is playing in the lobby, which is decorated with photographs of the pre-Katrina Coast.

“For those not visiting the Coast since Katrina, this conference is an eye-opener,” said MHS president Westley F. Busbee Jr, Belhaven University professor.

Five sessions, open to the public, combine academic research with entertaining ways of presenting history.

George Buss, an Illinois teacher impersonating Confederate President Jefferson Davis, gave the keynote luncheon address and conducted tours of Davis’ home, Beauvoir. The 1850s Biloxi house has become a poster child for how to save disaster-endangered historic properties.

Friday ended with “Katrina: The Mississippi Tsunami,” a keynote by University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast professor James “Pat” Smith, who is researching a book on Katrina’s ground zero.

“I have seen in our Katrina story the elements of classic tragedy — heroed, flawed and perhaps guilty of unwanted complacency that keeps us vulnerable,” Smith said. “Katrina burst all illusions.

“The forces of nature demanded and won a new respect.”

Today’s presentation centers on the role of local historical societies.

It will be followed by an awards brunch.

By KAT BERGERON – kbergeron@sunherald.com

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