Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The horror

I take the back roads through the remains of Gulfport.

Mentally numb after the first thirty times I whisper, “Oh my God.”

Katrina hated trees. As I drive parallel to the beach, less than a mile from the unseen shoreline, I think maybe every other tree is gone or going to come down. A full fifty percent of them devastated by the storm. Some are snapped. Some are uprooted. Some are leaning at brutal angles. Some appear to have simply exploded like organic grenades. Their trunks fragmented outward, spraying debris for ten yards. How do oak trees explode?

For those trees left standing, it looks like winter. No leaves to be found on anything. Nothing green remains. Not even the grass. Brown and dying, if it was touched by sea water. A twisted, macabre reality. Everywhere I look.

I catch the abrupt and all-too-apparent smell of death as I drive along Railroad Street, still parallel to the beach. Rancid meat co-mingling with the scent of leaking gas mains. Like somebody vomited on an outhouse in the middle of August. I pray it is only dead fish.

But at the corner of Hewes & Railroad, I see an unmarked white van surrounded by cops and several men in sterile white jumpsuits. They all have filtered-masks over the face. Jumpsuit Guys have yellow gloves and odd boots. Two of them cradle a black plastic bag between them. The weight of it has them hunched toward each other, straining and sweating in their costumes.

I know what is in those bags. I can see a stack of empty ones in the back of the van. And four occupied bags next to the empties.

And then I realize I can see the beach. I shouldn’t, though. It is three or four blocks south, past Highway 90 and then a hundred yards to the shore. I shouldn’t be able to see the water because of all the houses in the way. But there’s white sand and calm water clearly in view. And few, if any houses obstruct it. Hundreds of homes wiped from the face of the earth. Hundreds of families. Maybe thousands of lives. All in plain view from this one intersection.

No one to hear my whispered cry: The horror! The horror!

And I’m driving ever Westward. Toward my own Heart Of Darkness.

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