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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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WAVELAND, Miss. – If an army marches on its stomach, the Sonic Drive-In on Highway 90 is due some credit for fueling the legions that are digging out and rebuilding this Hurricane Katrina-battered region.

The hamburger joint that likes to call itself “America’s Drive-In” has become an oasis of light and, well, cholesterol, for relief workers, police officers, firefighters and regular citizens.

With just a handful of eateries open for miles around, and many of them with very limited menus, Sonic’s reopening on Monday morning with a full selection of burgers, dogs, wraps, salads, tater tots, breakfast sandwiches and ice cream treats was greeted with gusto by the hungry hordes.

Franchisee Cary Harvey says his 60 or so employees, who use roller skates to deliver the goods to tables and cars, are “writing about 1,400 tickets per day,” which totals somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 meals, “about 2½ times what we were doing pre-Katrina.”

It took the restaurant seven weeks to reopen after the storm in part because its parking lot was commandeered by emergency workers, but mostly because the inside of the block building was a total loss and all equipment had to be replaced, Harvey says. 051021_blog_sonic_secondary The Sonic drive-in in Waveland, Miss., is serving up to 4,000 meals a day.  (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

“It feels great” to provide a gathering place for the community, he adds. “That’s been our focus since we were able to get back down here after the storm. Even if it’s just fast food, people can get some hot food and get away from their daily problems.”

The swarming crowds have proved to be good tippers, too, one young waitress told us. She pocketed over $400 in a few days.

P.S.: If you go, get the grilled chicken wrap and a lime slush.


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Hooray for Sonic! This is not just a burger place but a milestone for the people of Waveland! Just 10 days ago you were still cleaning up the mess! Thanks Sonic for giving Waveland more the first of many business reopenings! Thanks for hanging in there and sticking it out in Waveland!

I'm one of those in photo. Sonic food, manager, and service was a blessing. Pray for folks who lost much down there, and that they will find consolation and comfort and restoration through our LORD JESUS who is the WAY,The TRUTH, and the LIFE. Rejoice in the LORD always,Again I say REJOICE. Col 4:4

I served on an AmeriCorps*NCCC team in nearby Pearlington, MS and I remember how excited we were to eat at this Sonic. You can't beat a real burger & fries after you've been eating at a Red Cross tent for every meal.

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