The post office is gone. The school is gone. City Hall is gone. Most of the churches are gone. Nearly every building in Smithville, Mississippi is gone — or so heavily damaged they will have to be demolished. The devastation from last week’s F5 tornado is so widespread, so absolute, that it’s easier to tally what remains: The telephone company. Coker’s Han-D-Mart. And an unshakeable sense of faith.
Three girls watch as the tall, well-dressed man strides down the cracked sidewalk, across the playground, through the weeds, past the swings, and toward a merry-go-round that might have once been blue but is now a tired gray. They seem wary here in the shadows of the housing projects and petrochemical plants that make up their world. Life on the west side of Port Arthur, Texas, is hard; street smarts come early by necessity.
Tangled ropes of purple, gold and green beads sailed through the air, landing with a thwack on Louisiana Highway 1 on Sunday afternoon. If ever a town needed Mardi Gras, it is Grand Isle — the first populated piece of U.S. territory to see oil make land following the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.
Donna Gainey grew up here in the picturesque fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., – went to school only a mile away, married a local boy, and made the tiny City Hall on Wintzell Avenue her home away from home. This is all she’s known. All she’s ever wanted to know. For 32 years, she’s watched mayors and council members come and go, but still she remains.
Traffic is jammed, bumper to tailgate, but no one seems to mind. Drivers cruise along at crawl speed, hanging out their windows from time to time to wave and yell friendly greetings to one another. The smell of barbecue hangs like Southern perfume in the sweltering heat, and strains of “Sweet Home Alabama” blast from roadside speakers. In the heart of Dixie, where college football is religion and every day is a good day to celebrate, the World’s Longest Yard Sale might as well be redubbed the Biggest Tailgate Party.