Picture antebellum homes bracketed by gnarled oak trees drooped with heavy moss. Imagine a hammock on the wraparound porch. It is positioned to take advantage of the breeze off the Gulf of Mexico and overlooks a small harbor, where sailboats and commercial shrimpers bob at their moorings.
That vision of the Mississippi Gulf Coast is just a memory in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But Gina Cadrecha of Steamboat Springs feels compelled to return to her childhood home of Pass Christian, Miss., as soon as possible.
"I just feel like I have to go back to get some kind of closure," Cadrecha said Wednesday.
The little fishing port of Pass Christian (pronounced Crishtee-ann) was Cadrecha's home beginning when she was 10 years old. She now works for SmartWool, an outdoor clothing company in Steamboat. Her father's condominium and her mother's apartment, both close to the beach, certainly have been wiped out by the storm surge that rose as high as 20 feet above sea level on the east side of Pass Christian. Cadrecha didn't grow up in one of the historic homes on the waterfront, but she did live close to the beach.
At least Cadrecha knows her parents are safe. Her mother, Mary, escaped to Arkansas before the storm. Her father, Charles, and brother, Michael, are with relatives in North Gulfport, Miss., where the storm's wind wreaked havoc but didn't cause devastating floods. Cadrecha is less certain about friends and family she has in Mississippi and New Orleans.
"It's terrible. I feel really far removed," Cadrecha said. "I want to go back just to sort through the rubble. It's frustrating, because the media hasn't been able to show (images) of Pass Christian. I have tons of friends and family also in New Orleans."
Mike and Colleen Miller, who own Sun Pie's Bistro in Steamboat, aren't native to New Orleans. Just the same, they'd like to learn about the fate of their home there, close to the east bank of the Mississippi River. Mike Miller said he's optimistic that his 1930s-era "barge board" home still could be dry. However, he can't reach his tenants by phone. The house is built on 4-foot stilts, a precaution against the milder floods common in New Orleans.
Drawing a map on a piece of paper, Miller illustrated what friends have told him over the phone about how the water from breached levees is entering the city. A series of arterial roads are channeling the water away from their home near the campus of Loyola University and toward the Louisiana Superdome, Canal Street and Bourbon Street.
"We're about a quarter-mile from the river. If the levees on the river go," it will be bad, he said.
Miller is more concerned about the well-being of friends who decided to stay in New Orleans and ride out the hurricane.
"It's a house -- I'm guessing we aren't getting our rent check tomorrow. We have a few people who stayed and a few who are on their way up here. One friend called to say all he has left is his wife and a pair of flip-flops," Miller said. "We talked to a friend about 10 a.m. Monday after the hurricane had passed. He was scared to death, even though he lives on the 10th floor of a big building. He had food and water for three days."
The Millers' home in New Orleans was made of lumber recycled from a barge that had come down the Mississippi. It was a common practice during an era when there was no practical way to get barges back upstream.
"Fortunately, none of our possessions are in there," Miller said.
Miller said there is reason for concern about lawlessness in New Orleans as the city struggles to stabilize neighborhoods. The city is more wide-open than typical American cities.
"Unless you have lived there, it's difficult to understand what's going on in that town," he said. "It's traditional there for people to shoot their pistols into the air on New Year's Eve. A friend who lives near the Maple Leaf Bar said he saw a man guarding the store next door with a shotgun."
Before Katrina, Pass Chris-tian probably was the antithesis of Bourbon Street. Unlike Biloxi, just up the coast with its casinos, Pass Christian is not a tourist town, Cadrecha said. Its historical society took great pride in the old mansions that made up its small historic district. The Sun Herald newspaper in Biloxi reported Wednesday that the harbor and the beachfront community are "gone."
Cadrecha said her fondest childhood memories involve boarding a friend's boat to visit one of the barrier islands for a crawfish boil. The water quality on the gulf was spectacular, and they often sighted dolphins in the sea.
She also has fond memories of the annual Pass Christian Seafood Festival held on the grounds of St. Paul's Elem-entary School.
She is optimistic her community will rebuild, but the Pass Christian of Cadrecha's childhood may continue to exist only in memory.