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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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Jeanette Lynn Lusich sweeps the tarp that is the floor in her open-air living room. Her family is still living in tents in the aftermath of Katrina. Click 'Play' for an audio slide show.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – Let’s get one thing straight right now. Jeanette Lynn Lusich is not a complainer. Nope, she’s about as cheerful as you could expect a body to be after losing most of her possessions and a home that had sheltered four generations of her family. But living in tents for five weeks is getting old.

“I can’t understand this,” says the 48-year-old homemaker and mother of two teen-age sons who has been waiting to get a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency since shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck. “There’s so many stories, you don’t know who to believe anymore.”

Drive west of the Hancock County seat a few miles to the Lakeshore area – it’s still a Bay St. Louis mailing address – and you’ll find the Lusiches and most everything they have left spread out beneath a pair of sprawling oaks.

A tarp is the floor of their outdoor living room where they can watch TV when the sun’s not shining too brightly to blot out the screen. A camp stove, a few battered ice chests and a pair of barbecues serve as the kitchen. They have a bucket for a bathroom, carefully surrounded for privacy with plastic tarps. A makeshift shower – cold water only – hangs inside the same enclosure. The rest of what is left of their 28 years in the house lies in piles beneath the trees.

And then there are the tents. Jeanette and her husband, Dale, a carpenter and maintenance man, share the largest, a gift from the Rotary club by way of their county supervisor. The big green nylon dome sports a queen-sized airbed and a few neat stacks of clothes and bedding. A shotgun lies on the plastic floor. Dale Jr., 19, has his own tent, while Clint, 15, shares one with the food. The family keeps what is left of its clothing in a fourth tent.

That they have these things to keep themselves as comfortable as they can is a matter of their foresight as they fled the oncoming Katrina that last weekend of August. They piled what they could in Jeanette’s car, Dale’s truck and a boat.

“We took our camping equipment because we go camping,” says Jeanette. “But mama, we’ve never gone camping this long,” chimes in Clint, a curly-haired, lanky youth with faux diamonds the size and shape of Chiclets pinned to each ear.

They hunkered down in Bay St. Louis proper with longtime friends Starbrenda and Patrick Tustin and rode out the storm. When they returned to their three acres, the simple white three-bedroom, one-bath, 100-year-old home that had come down through the family from Dale’s grandma had been shoved off its foundation blocks by 20 or 30 feet. It was a total loss. They spray-painted their Lower Bay Road address on the door along with the message “We’ll be back.”

They heard about the travel trailers that FEMA was bringing to homeless Katrina survivors and started calling the agency to get in the system.

“We tried and tried and it took us two weeks before we got through,” recalls Jeanette as she stands on the dusty tarp in a neat denim dress, her sandals showing off carefully painted pink toenails. “Then we got a number and my husband went … and signed up for the trailer.” Near as she and the Tustins, who are frequent visitors to the encampment, can recall, that was mid-September.

Then they set up the tents, moved back to their land with their chocolate Lab Cocoa and started waiting.

It got a bit confusing. They were told they had to have utilities before the trailer would be delivered. So with their own funds they had a temporary electric service installed. But then they were told FEMA was supposed to handle that. Agency workers or contractors did show up recently to run water and sewer lines to the site that awaits their trailer and one for Dale’s dad and step mom.

The last she heard from FEMA, on Saturday, was that she could expect to see her trailer any time.

“They say that,” Jeanette says, but they’ve said that before.

“She’s on the list.” Starbrenda Tustin says, rolling her eyes.

“That’s all they know,” Jeannette says. “Any time. You’re on the list.”

So they’re still waiting.

“The worst thing about it is the bugs,” says Jeanette as Clint, who lost most of his drum kit to Katrina, knocks out some licks on a practice pad.

Also, “I love to cook and I can’t cook.” She likes to keep house, too. “I can tidy up the tent, but that’s about it. I can’t do it like I want to, but nobody can.” She doesn’t think the trailer will be a great substitute for the house, but hopes “it’ll be somewhere where I can stay out of the weather. … I’m tired of getting sunburned. “

That handful of minor irritations is the worst she has to say about her family’s plight, though. “If you let yourself go and get down, you’re not going to be able to do anything. You’re going to be miserable.”

And miserable is one thing she refuses to be, although she has great sadness for the loss of her home and even greater uncertainty about what will ultimately replace it since the family had no insurance.

“I tell Dale, I don’t want to go near the house. I can’t. It upsets me. It’s not going to be there anymore.”

But the Lusiches are not complainers. When the trailer comes, fine. In the meantime, here they’ll be, beneath the oaks, keeping house as best they can and looking squarely to the future.

“Thanks for interviewing us,” Clint says politely.

“Take care,” calls Jeannette Lynn in a voice as warm and southern as the late October breeze that carries it through the woods. “We love you.”

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49 COMMENTS

It takes a strong family unit to be able to do what the Lusiches are doing on their own. Unfortunately, not everyone down there has that kind of reinforcement to keep them going.
God bless everyone who made it through, and shall we never forget those who didn't.
I hope the voters of this country will remember, as I do, and stop being brainwashed by those in charge now.

They are lucky to be getting a trailer. I have friends in Belle Chasse, LA who are living in a tent on the front lawn of their rental house, 3 children, 2 adults in a 3 man tent. They are now being evicted because the rents in New Orleans have gone up to over 2000.00$ a mth for a house. A low income family who is not low income enough for section 8 can not afford that. NOt to mention the inside of the house fell down, the land lord refuses to fix it, He can get more for it after he evicts them, fixes the house and rents it for 2500$ a mth instead of the 750$ he was renting it for.
The family you wrote about are the lucky ones, My friends dont see help comming to them. They are going to be homeless in about 20 days and citiless because they can not afford to live there any longer.
Go and inteview them. They need all the help they can get. They volunteer daily for the red cross and give everything they have to those who need it, but when they need help themselves, no one wants to step forward and help them.

I'm beginning to believe that we should just do away with FEMA and have the funds go to the area of need. Is that realistic? Don't know, but I do know that what is happening to the survivors of Katrina is not acceptable. God bless the Lusich's and please let us know that their trailer has finally arrived. Too little too late.

Jeanette and Dale,
My husband is a disabled vet with a part time small business, so we couldn't afford just to give it away, but the payments for our new travel trailer we got this summer are $205 a month through Bank of America. It has a bedroom and then the couch and dining area in the slide out part turn into beds also. We thought we'd be moved out of Denver area by now and using it while we look for a cheaper place in AR or KY and then traveling for the shows my husband goes to for his business. We already moved it to just south of Lexington, KY. The kitchen has all utensils, pots, pans, and dishes needed to cook for a family. There is also a small electric vacuum. We have not yet put the insulation underneath like the dealer said to do if the trailer was to be used in the winter. We were told it was very easy to do. Anyway, if you or someone you know in your area could take over the payments, we could get it moved down to your area.
Marcie and Jeff Fultz

What a strong family and spirit. Probably one in a thousand could handle their situation. It is painful to read about what so many have been through. My family endured Rita and feels blessed to have escaped the worse of this. I hope this family will know that others care and will come through this even stronger. May God Bless each of them.

We have many friends on the coast who have the same experiences as this family. This Republican adminstration has abandoned them. Please learn from this- They don't care about you unless you donate millions to them (like the credit card and pharmaceutical cos.).

They are lucky to have three tents for 4 people. How about all the people in Pakistan and India who are going to die as winter sets in because they have nothing. At least we live in an economy where travel trailers are available as temporary housing.

I don't get why these people are in tents. I mean seriously, why isn't FEMA giving these people building supplies and letting them fix the house? Are they just going to sit in a tent till a trailer comes? Then what? They need to just move somewhere else, and get out of this three-acre campsite.

In a tent? after all this time? that is just ridiculous....and gee this is a white family, so FEMA doesn't discriminate - they treat everyone badly...

What is going with this family is true all over the Gulf Coast. When FEMA finally delivered trailers to people in Bayou LaBatre', they place them on the homeowner's property and then left with out unlocking them..... In my neighborhood alone ~ 30 families there are at least 5 trailers (personal ones not FEMA ones) housing Katrina evacuees. If those people hadn't had relatives with RV's they would still be waiting. By the way.. the temps for the Gulf Coast are dipping into the low 40's this week, I hope all the people in tents will be warm enough.

Let's remember how many people there are without housing. Even some are living in the streets. Be patient.

Also, let's remeber that these people could have evacuated, but chose not to do so.

Hi, we had family in Bay St. Louis, too...One brother has a trailer, finally,it's tiny, but has a bedroom and is new:) Whereas, the other brother had to move from Waveland to TX, after losing everything...then there's Granma and Granpa who are now living with our sister in S.Caronlina...So many families torn apart:( I just hope they know people still care and are trying their best to help still...I've started a website www.generation2b.com for the children affected by Katrina and Rita...it is to get school supplies to the schools there in MS:) I've also begun www.clippingcoupons4acause.com to gather coupons for organizations there in MS to pass out to people in need...I don't know where I'd be without my double coupons:) Anyways, if anyone would like to help me on my quest feel free to check it out:) It's so very important that we let these people know we care and are still there for them, especially during the upcoming holidays!
Best wishes,
JoAnn Bush
Los Angeles, CA

i think we need to stop blaming the republican party and realize that the people of New Orleans need a new leader (s) on their side, to me to see the mayor and governor didn't do their part in the line of duty is where the finger needs to be pointed. and besides that this was an act of God - not a personal attack on New Orleans or any other of the small towns that go unmentioned that went thru the same and worse than New Orleans, sounds like to me we all need to have the finger pointed at each other as well.

Thoughts and prayers are with you!

I wish I had the job the person head of FEMA has. I'm good at organizing and putting things back together and also a good customer service represenative. ask my three Supervisors, yes I have three jobs and go them faithfully. The people in those position have those jobs because of who they know not what they know. People now are suffering because people don't know their jobs, or just don't care. Our Lord and Savvior is still in control and before they leave this world they will reap what they have sowed. All the President men will suffer for making other people suffer even if it means not being able to get up and goto the bathroom in their old age. GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF ALL OF YOU THAT HAVE SUFFEERED, PLEASE JUST KEEP THE FAITH. Helen Oak Ridge TN

Why is everyone beating up on FEMA. People are responsible for themselves, not the government. If people were more reasonable with their finances and had a proper amount of savings things like this would not be such a problem. If rents go up that high what should you do? Complain? No, move to somewhere else. The government helps out people so that after a disaster people have some support. They are not there to cover every proplem.

It seems to me this family expects to sit and wait for the government to do something. There are alot of people left homeless by the hurricane who have moved on into temporary or permanent housing. Too many excuses and too much blaming of the government. Get off your butt and go find an job and a place to live.

To Robert Paulson of Pullman WA. No, they do not need to move somewhere else and abandon their 3 acre homesite. Would you really walk away from your property when land records have been destroyed and the land is all that you have. These people, like my 3 siblings and niece of Bay St. Louis and Waveland need trailors to live in, materials to rebuild, and money for labor or volunteers to work with them to rebuild their homes on their own property and in their own community. We are talking about people, middle class people who have worked all their lives, paid their taxes, raised children and contributed to their communities. Once they have a real shelter with a real shower and toilet, then maybe they can actually find a source of income through the building trades. But you have to understand that communication and transportation are still limited in those areas. And when you have trees to cut and debris to clear, 28 years of life to sift through and for the most part let go, there is little time or energy left for anything else. I'm so glad to hear that the Lusichs are staying as all in my family are. I look forward to, again, seeing the many courageous people of the Bay and Waveland who have endured, risen above, and moved forward with the daunting and exhausting tasks of cleanup and rebuilding in spite of limited shelters and facilities. Perhaps, Mr. Paulson, you could find time to join us over the holidays season to volunteer in the rebuilding efforts. I'm sure the Lusichs could use the help. Maybe then you will begin to understand them.

It is so hard to imagine what daily life is truly like for everyone is the same place as these. I found this site today, and it really brings it home. I now know where my next money donation will be going. http://www.gulfcoastnews.com/

There are so many ways to look at this situation. I have been working the DRC's and shelters for the last 6 weeks and have heard many, many stories from evacuees. The blame, if you choose to call it that, should be spread around. It's an accumulation of things and the weight should not be put on one person's or agency's shoulders. There are so many complicated issues that have arisen from these hurricanes that there really is no easy answer to all of this chaos. First and foremost, we need to keep in mind that human beings lives have been and continue to be affected still today. Sure, I realize that you should get out there and help yourself or you 'should' have known better to evacuate but these are not the real issues at stake. Poverty is such a deep rooted issue and that is the bottom line in this catastrophe. Although the focus has been on the black community, there are many, many poor whites as well and the race card does not need to be the issue at hand.
Maria, Baton Rouge, LA

It is terrible that this family and others have to endure this situation and clearly the goverment could have done a better job, however, this matter is a double edge sword. It is not goverment's responsibility or the actually the taxpayer's responsibility to be responsible for these people. There are things called insurance and savings. As far as I am concerned if you are going to live in the areas that these people did, then you must take the responsibility of insuring yourself even if it might mean that you have to cut something else out of your income. That is the risks that one takes in these situations and although I understand their plight, wouldn't being more aware of what could happen and taking steps to help yourself been better as the situation stands right now? Sometimes excuses for not doing what you know you need to do just doesn't cut it and surely the American taxpayer cannot be asked to intervene every time something like this happens. It really sets a new precedent, where a bailout will be expected everytime. Can we afford it? I think not.

I agree with Maria - race is not the issue or what or what not should have been done. Lives have been changed drastically - probably forever and we all need to be aware of this. Who would have thought that we would be dealing with so many catastrophic storms in one season. Times are rough right now and we need to support one another anyway we can - with kindness, respect and prayer.

It is a sad situation that does need review. First of all for people to sit and say that FEMA and the govenrment was slow to react have no idea of the complexity and size of the situation. I am a distribution and logistics professional and I cringe at the task of handling the problems that they have. The Government has moved millions of pounds of equipment, housing, food, water, and fuel to the area to rebuild it. Someone else said it best that "we all have the final say in how we live our lives". If they choose to stay there then that is in deed their choice however dire consequences must be endured by chosing that option. Billions of Dollars are being pumped into the area on a weekly basis by the government that they say isnt supporting them. You have to understand that it took several hundred years to build what was there. It won't be rebuilt in 6-8 weeks, or 6-8 months or probably even 6-8 years. I think that the government has done a fantastic job to secure the area, provide for the majority of the population and begin the rebuilding process. I'm darn proud to say that I live in a country that could accomplish this because I know of no other in the world that could. The majority people that are complaining that they havent received enough, fast enough are the same ones that sat around on their front porch every month waiting on the check. They are part of the great welfare generation that this country has created who cannot even take care of themselves. I think that the Lusich family should be applauded for their perserverance. The same perserverance that their ancestors had a few generations ago and helped settle the area originally.

It seems to me that we as a nation should stop throwing rocks at one another about who's to blame, and just get on with helping these folks as fast as we can...so much energy is being spent on trying to cast aspersions on organizations, people who run them, etc that could be better spent on housing, medicine, communications, heat....

THERE MAY BE MANY WAYS TO LOOK AT ANY SITUATION, BUT WHY HAVEN'T WE TRIED HARDER TO GET PEOPLE IN SOME KIND OF TRAILER, TO AT LEAST EXIST. WE TALK OF ALL THE PROBLEMS IN THIRD WORLD SITUATIONS (PAKISTAN). THIS IS THE STRONGEST COUNTRY (WEALTH AND SPIRITUALLY). WHY CAN'T WE GET PEOPLE INTO SOMETHING BETTER THAN A CAVE DWELLING.
THESE PEOPLE ARE TRYING. THEY COMPLAIN , BUT THEN ARE THANKFUL FOR WHAT THEY HAVE. THEY CARE FOR MORE THAN THEMSELVES. THEY KNOW THAT OTHERS MAY HAVE LESS.
INSTEAD OF FINDING FAULT WITH SOMEONE IN THERE SITUATION , LET'S GET THEM SOME HELP.
PUT YOURSELF IN THERE PLACE. WOULDN,T YOU FEEL AS THEY DO. THEY FEEL SOMEWHAT FORGOTTEN.
WHERE IS ALL THE MONEY THAT HAS BEEN DONATED AND THE FUNDS PROMISED BY THE POLITITIONS IN WASHINGTON.
PERHAPS NBC COULD SOMEHOW CREATE A NETWORK SO VOLUNTEERS COULD GROUP TOGETHER AND HELP PEOPLE REBUILD THE LIVES THAT HAVE BEEN UPROOTED.
GOD BLESS US ALL,EVERYONE NO MATTER WHERE WE LIVE.

I don't believe that the goverment should be blamed at all it was a natural disaster. they goverment is here to help not do all for us next were going to ask them to breath for us. i understand that some people could not afford to leave but you shouldnt expect to gain a whole lot by this either peoples greed is what is keeping every one down you give them some but its never going to be enough. i dont understand way race always becomes a issue we are all human and need to stop singing the same song when things dont go are way. i wish nothing but the best for you. God bless

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