Harrison County

It was over in minutes; now Beauvoir has about $25,000 in property damage

A large section of an oak tree lies on the ground at Beauvoir in Biloxi on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 after a waterspout from Tropical Storm Cindy came ashore.
A large section of an oak tree lies on the ground at Beauvoir in Biloxi on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 after a waterspout from Tropical Storm Cindy came ashore. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Tom Payne, executive director at Beauvoir, said Wednesday was just a “normal day” at work — at least until around 8:30 a.m.

“I got a call from my brother, Bob Payne, and he told me there was a waterspout on the water south of Beauvoir,” Payne said. “I went up to the second floor where it’s all glass and you can get a good view of the campus — most of the time it’s a good view, but there its was, three vortexes coming across the sand and heading our way.”

Payne said he gathered his staff and they rode out the tornado, which was part of the movement of Tropical Storm Cindy across the Gulf.

“It was loud and it was over with quickly,” he said. “No one was injured.”

However, the campus of Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis, was not as fortunate.

“We lost about 19 trees in the process, including the large Live oak in front of the house that was about 200 years old,” Payne said.

An urban forest

Beauvoir is considered an “urban forest” by the Mississippi Urban Forest Council. Payne said that although the primary purpose of the tourist attraction is to “educate and commemorate,” it is also an eco-tourism destination.

“The property, environmentally, is as important to the community as is our history,” he said. “There are people who come strictly to view and enjoy the property.”

But properly cleaning up the damage from the storm could prove to be an expensive task for the property.

“Our books have a zero-balance and we have to charge and admission to tour the property — we have to survive on admission, our activities and our gift shop,” Payne said. “Our break-even point is about $2,000 a day to survive — we’re at our peak season when we have thousands of people coming through a day and now we’ve had a catastrophic event happen.”

Damage at Beauvoir in Biloxi after a waterspout came ashore as Tropical Storm Cindy comes through the area.

He said the cleanup is going to cost about $25,000. And, yes, the property is insured but it has become a complicated matter.

“We’ve been told that since the storm was upgraded to a ‘named system’ that our deductible has gone from $5,000 to about $300,000,” Payne said. “This is something we’re going to fight, but we have to stay open in the meantime.”

You can help

Payne said he’s reaching out to the community to help with the debris removal and storm cleanup. A Go Fund Me account has been set for Beauvoir. It can be accessed at the home’s website, www.visitbeauvoir.org/.

“We’re asking people to help is strictly with the cost of the cleanup,” he said. “This money isn’t for anything other than the cleanup — it’s not for salaries or outliers or anything.”

Payne said Beauvoir is a huge part of the community, bringing in about 40,000 to 50,000 visitors a year.

“We’re just asking our neighbors to help us to clean up our trees and remove the debris,” he said. “Beauvoir has maybe been a little aloof in the past and we are trying to change that.”