The High-Rises Sink But Bay St. Louis Stays Afloat

Ellis Anderson of Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Ellis Anderson is an artist, community activist, and blogger from Bay St. Louis, Miss. She is the founder of Quarter Moon Gallery and specializes in work involving precious metals. Joe Tomasovsky hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Tomasovsky

In 50 years, I'd be 99 years old. Here's what I might tell a child about my town of Bay St. Louis, Miss.:

You're too young to remember, but our town wasn't always an island. Years ago, the sea level rose because of global warming, and water eventually surrounded our little patch of high ground on the coast.

Our town motto has always been "A Place Apart," so we just smiled at the irony. The experts told us to give up and leave, but we'd had a lot of practice surviving disasters.

In 1969, other experts predicted that the town was finished after a direct hit from a storm called Camille, yet we grew back as a thriving arts community. Then Katrina struck in 2005 and didn't leave much standing.

Many said we'd never recover and should leave. They warned that the storms would just keep getting worse. We didn't listen then, either, understanding that a home is more than just a house. We had the last laugh. As the Gulf slowly rose, the temperature of the water fell. Hurricanes became a thing of the past.

Yet after Katrina, we faced another threat. Speculators came in with plans to build massive high-rises on our coastal wetlands. Unbelievable now, isn't it? In the end, we were saved by the 2008 Taxpayer Revolt. Americans refused to subsidize flood insurance for huge new developments built smack in harm's way.

A few towers had already been constructed on the wetlands, because some engineers claimed it was perfectly fine to build on mud. Of course, the high-rises began sinking and finally, rising seas covered their tops, creating the reef we nicknamed "New Atlantis."

It's now an international tourist destination, and our town serves as a base for dive excursions. People are also drawn here by our quirky Southern ambiance and the art colony of houseboats surrounding the island. We boast hundreds of floating galleries, studios and art schools. In Bay St. Louis, adversity has managed to breed both great art and good humor.

That statue of Old Mayor Favre is a case in point. After Katrina, the mayor vowed not to wear long pants again until the city was back on its feet. They say it's the only statue in the world that depicts a public official in shorts. The tourists love it, and so do I. The inscription underneath reads, "A Place Apart, A Place with Heart. We're not going anywhere."

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