When French explorers landed on Mississippi shores in 1699, they stepped on sand. It was not a manicured, wide, sand beach like the Coast has boasted since the mid-20th century, but the sandy areas between the marshy bayou and spring inlets that dumped into the Mississippi Sound were inviting and crystalline white.
   Storms kept reshaping the waterfront. Then in the 1920s, humans joined the act by building a protective, stair-step seawall along the 27-mile waterfront of Harrison County. Alongside it went a road, today's Beach Boulevard, aka U.S. 90, and the reshaping was complete.
   Sand dunes and Indian mounds were leveled. The bayous and spring inlets were culverted or paved over. Storms, tides and wind ate away the sand and without dunes to help replenish, the waterfront became more and more narrow. In many places it lapped against the seawall.
   Then came World War II and the importance of U.S. 90 was realized. To save it from erosion, and to create a beautiful tourist beach in the process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pumped back a lot more sand than was ever there. That was in the early 1950s and occasional sand replenishment has maintained what promoters like to call "the world's largest man-made beach."
   Hurricane Katrina was no kinder to the beach than it was to the houses, churches and businesses alongside it. Responsibility for maintaining the beach belongs to the county. First after Katrina, a Florence contractor began removing the large debris.
   In late October, the county awarded a contract to Necaise Brothers, a local company, to screen debris from the sand using a 3/8-inch screen. The cost will be $9,000 an acre, with $12 a cubic yard to haul the debris away. There are 725 acres to be screened.