Mississippi Coast Hit with Massive Storm Surge

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Robert Siegel talks with Bill Finch, assistant managing editor of The Mobile Register, about Hurricane Katrina's damage on the coast of Mississippi and Alabama. Finch says the storm surges are the highest Mobile has experienced in a century.


Joining us now from Mobile, Alabama, is Bill Finch, who's assistant managing editor for the Mobile Register.

And, Mr. Finch, what have you been able to find out about the extent of storm damage between where you are, along the Gulf Coast, towards New Orleans?

Mr. BILL FINCH (Assistant Managing Editor, Mobile Register): Well, we were very surprised how far east the surge has moved and some of the high winds. I mean, I can start here in Mobile and tell you that we're probably looking at 11 to 12 feet of storm surge, even in downtown Mobile. We've heard things are very bad in Biloxi and Gulfport. Gulfport apparently has a lot of water in its downtown area. I can't confirm that, but everything we're hearing indicates that they have just a tremendous amount of water in their downtown area, that the casinos, I think, are almost inevitably flooded. They're sort of floating buildings--barely floating buildings that are on the waterfront.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FINCH: And just looking at the surge, it has to be very high in a lot of those casinos right now, the water.

SIEGEL: Are you getting any sense of how typical it is for private homes to be seriously damaged by this storm?

Mr. FINCH: Here in Mobile, we don't--I don't think we've seen as much damage to private homes. I hear that in Gulfport and Biloxi, the damage was pretty serious.

SIEGEL: In your time in Mobile, have you seen storms this bad?

Mr. FINCH: This is certainly the worst storm I have seen in many ways in Mobile in the 12, 13, 14 years I've lived here as an adult. And in terms of the storm surge, it's probably the worst we've seen in a hundred years. It's coming very close, if it hasn't quite surpassed, the mark that was left by a hurricane in the very first part of the 20th century that was about an 11-foot storm surge that was Mobile's record. The winds lasted longer than, I think, many of us expected them to. We've seen a lot of wind damage, and we're certainly seeing it on some buildings now, but it's not the worst wind damage we've seen, perhaps, even within the past decade.

We understand that there's some areas that have tended to escape wind damage, like the very southwestern part of this county. They're apparently seeing a lot of wind damage with this storm. And one of the interesting features is you have trees that are sort of naive that haven't really been through storms before. We've gotten rid of all our naive trees; they've all been culled. But in areas that haven't seen these kinds of winds before, you get a tremendous amount of damage from trees falling, and we're hearing about that in the southeastern part of the county.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Finch, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. FINCH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Bill Finch, assistant managing editor of the Mobile Register, talking to us about today's hurricane as experienced from Mobile, Alabama.

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