Hurricane Katrina

Ghosts of Katrina stand on empty lots across the Coast

Katrina Trees, Long Beach, Feb. 12, 2015
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Katrina Trees, Long Beach, Feb. 12, 2015 SUN HERALD

When the waters of the Gulf of Mexico swallowed South Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina, it began a slow death for many of the stately oak trees that help define the Coast.

It was not the salt water that killed them, as many believe, but rather the physical abuse from debris, said Eric Nolan, arborist for the city of Biloxi.

"A lot of what got them was the debris and a combination of compression wounds on the trunks themselves," he said.

"Live oaks are very salt tolerant."

Drought conditions for several years after the storm added to the trees' stress.

Eventually many succumbed to the damage, leaving leafless skeletons dotting the landscape.

Most of these trees are on empty lots that were never rebuilt on after the storm destroyed the houses or businesses that once enjoyed their shade.

The Chimneys restaurant in Gulfport, rebuilt in 2008, is surrounded by thriving live oaks, but one did not survive. It now stands, like so many others, bare of leaves, vulnerable.

Restaurant co-owner Watson Nord said the tree lived for a while after the storm, but started to die. In July, they trimmed some of the limbs that were in danger of falling into the street.

"It looked kind of cool," he said, "but now its becoming a hazard."

The oaks are very decay resistant, Nolan said, explaining why they continue to haunt the Coast, reminders of the storm that many would rather forget.