The “Southport of the Gulf”

A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich? This is how the story unfolded in the tiny town of Southport, in Sarasota County, about…

The "Southport of the Gulf"

A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich?

This is how the story unfolded in the tiny town of Southport, in Sarasota County, about 20 miles north of St. Petersburg. After three days of rain and winds that blew down trees and tore off roofs and fences, a small group of residents decided the time had come to take down some of the damage the hurricane inflicted. A few days earlier, the village of Southport had been declared federal disaster area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been called in to help with storm cleanup. In that short time, the town had suffered from widespread power outages and flooding, and, according to media reports, was “virtually unrecognizable from a picturesque beach town.”

But by the close of that week, nearly a year after Katrina had hit, Southport was beginning to show signs of recovery. The town now had electricity again, and many of the streets were beginning to dry out. When the sun began to shine again on the village, residents were able to take to the parks and beaches to enjoy the day. Many people returned to their homes, and stores and businesses reopened.

It would be years before the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina became recognized as the sixth-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Yet by the time it was over, a community in southwest Florida was on its feet—a community that included more than 250 families and almost 200 families of construction workers who had lost their homes, along with thousands of homes in the path of the storm, but that hadn’t been hit.

Sarasota County, where Southport is located, was one of the first places to recover and rebuild after Katrina, and its residents have, for some strange reason, become the subject of intense scrutiny from some residents of New Orleans and Mississippi, and, more recently, from some U.S. lawmakers and officials in Texas and Louisiana. The focus has been on the “new normal”—and “good Samaritans,” and the people who helped out in the aftermath of the storm. In some places, questions have been raised about why a town as small as South Port is still being referred to as the “Southport of the Gulf” by national outlets and news sources.

In response, in 2011, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office put a reporter on a helicopter to fly over Southport, to

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