I recently came across an interesting roadside attraction that I was surprised I didn’t know about: the Katrina Trees along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. These “survivors” of the devastation now draw tourists to the area and help support local businesses. But before telling you about them, here’s my backstory:
About two or three weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Baby Girl and I, along with my photographer friend Alissa, decided to drive along the coast of Mississippi and chronicle the devastation. One reason we wanted to take photos was because New Orleans had gotten so much of the attention and we knew Mississippi had suffered widespread devastation.
We started in Waveland, Mississippi, and drove along Highway 90, through Mobile and Bayou Le Batre, Alabama, only stopping when we found a hotel in Montgomery. We only left the beach road when it was impassable and it took about 17 hours to make the trip. We knew restaurants and hotels would be closed and we didn’t want to have any impact on emergency crews so we took water and sandwiches with us. Baby Girl, who was 12 at the time, also took some small toys to give out to children who showed up at supply centers.
What we saw was something we will never forget. I had covered the aftermath of numerous tornadoes and Hurricane Ivan in Gulf Shores but I had never witnessed the scope of damage caused by Katrina. We saw buckled railroad lines. Pavement pushed aside, twisted into S-shapes but not broken, by sand and storm surge. We saw collapsed homes and we saw mile-after-mile of jagged trees, stripped by winds and water. A handful of my photos are shown in a slideshow below. I haven’t found the ones Alissa took.
In 2007, artists began carving those dead trees into sculptures as memorials. GulfCoast.org says the artists are: chainsaw artist Dayton Scoggins of Mississippi, wood sculptor Marlin Miller of Florida, and Dayle Lewis of Indiana. The artworks are mostly of marine life but they include what is billed as “the World’s Largest Eagle Sculpture, a 17-foot-tall carving located in War Memorial Park on Highway 90 in Pass Christian.
The City of Biloxi website says, “The trees were victims of the saltwater storm surge of Hurricane Katrina 16 months earlier. In March 2007, after MDOT crews ‘topped’ the dead trees, Scoggins made the first of two sculpting visits to Biloxi, creating egrets, seagulls, pelicans and dolphins from a collection of trees just west of the Biloxi Lighthouse.”
Miller then volunteered his services and produced 15 more sculptures in the City of Biloxi, which has a total of 20 art trees. Along the beachside stretch of Highway 90, the sculptures total 50.
These beautiful works of art, memorials to those who died and a commemoration to those who aided in recovery, are now on my bucket list. I can’t wait to go see them for myself.
A few photos from our post-Katrina tour.