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.
If you want to be elected in the Bluegrass State, there’s only one place to be the first Saturday in August: Fancy Farm, Ky., where old-fashioned politics meets dyed-in-the-wool religion, and the differences are evened out by the glorious, gluttonous, gastronomic magic of charred pork and mutton at the annual Fancy Farm picnic-cum-political rally.
The moment Gulfport, Miss., resident Megan Jordan feared has arrived. The viscous onslaught of crude is no longer an abstract horror belonging to Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. The first globules of oil have slipped through the Mississippi Sound and washed ashore in nearby Ocean Springs. For Ms. Jordan and her neighbors, this isn’t just any beach – it’s the keeper of memories, the provenance of dreams. The destruction is hard to bear. Their passion, properly channeled, could become a crucial element in future oil spill defense.
In the end, Magnolia Springs did not need BP or Mr. Obama or the governor in Montgomery. It needed the grit and determination of the people themselves – people like Hinton, who says he will stand chest-deep in the waters of the bay, linked arm in arm with his neighbors, if that’s what it takes to stop the encroaching oil from despoiling the sublime latticework of bogs and bayous that he calls home.
The nation spent Wednesday riveted by a live video feed of BP’s latest attempt to stop the geyser of oil infiltrating the Gulf of Mexico, but in Louisiana, sights were set on the heavens as residents gathered at First Baptist Church of Chalmette to pray. One by one, they stood and asked God for protection, guidance, comfort, and mercy. At times, they clung together so closely that they evoked images of the delicate reeds that are now in danger – frail, but not weak; bent, but not broken. Never, ever broken.
Black ribbons fluttered in the breeze as a homemade pinwheel bearing 29 names turned slowly, lending a splash of color to an otherwise overcast day in southern West Virginia. Here, residents are still coming to grips with the state’s worst mining disaster in more than two decades. Part of that process continued Sunday, when President Obama spoke at a eulogy for the 29 coal miners who died in the accident.
Keep hope. Keep faith. Keep strong. Keep going. It is that strength of spirit to which this 18-family community, nestled within the hills of south-central Kentucky, is clinging as the church struggles to accept the loss of nearly a tenth of its members. The crash, which cost 11 lives, was believed to be the deadliest motor vehicle accident in Kentucky since 1988.