Oil rig in the Gulf Coast was blown inland nearly 60 miles by Hurricane Katrina to rest damaged off the Alabama coast near Dauphin Island. (Photo by E. Michael Powers for ENR)

The destruction of Hurricane Katrina was not limited to Louisiana and Mississippi. A storm surge of 12 to 15 feet accompanied by high winds damaged the western costal region of Alabama.

Dauphin Island, Alabama, was razed from the earth in places. The western end of the island reeks of sewage and stagnate water. The storm struck with such force that it ripped sewer lines from the ground and left them in piles. Residents do not have access to clean water, either, as the storm damaged transmission lines and threw a water tower across the island.

The power infrastructure of the area did not fare much better. Many poles were snapped from their bases, leaving what is left of the roads covered in downed lines. A boat could be seen in the Intercoastal Waterway replacing poles parallel to the island’s causeway. Some houses are relatively intact, but the winds were so strong that they ripped others off of their piling, rolling whole houses several hundred yards. There is no evidence left of most other homes. Nothing remains except the piling that raised the houses to protect them from storm surge.

The area needs massive beach restoration work. The Army Corps of Engineers likely will seek contractors to replace the extensive erosion of both the north and south sides of the island. The Ocean Warwick, an offshore oil platform some 60 miles offshore, was blown inland and beached by Katrina’s awesome winds. Crews will face an interesting challenge bringing a boat close enough into the shallow water to tow away the massive, severely damaged rig.

The mainland coast was destroyed similarly, despite the presence of the barrier island. When a federal Homeland Security official was asked about the condition of one coastal infrastructure, he simply replied, "What infrastructure?"

Dauphin Island may hold an important lesson for other beachfront communities. The eastern half of the island, though it saw comparable winds and storm surge as the western half, escaped the storm relatively unharmed. The island's eastern portion is protected by a 30-ft manmade sand dune. These two facts likely are not independent of one another. While the massive dune is not the most aesthetically pleasing to its neighbors, homes adjacent to the beach on the eastern end escaped with some sand on the roof and flooding of the first floor.

For a link to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hurricane Katrina press briefings click on http://www.usace.army.mil/