What is this?

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.

Map of Southeaster United States

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.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

How you can help

RSS 

Get the latest stories, journal entries and images via RSS subscription.

Click "Play" below the image to hear Ellis Anderson describe why she wants to be a watchdog on how Bay St. Louis is rebuilt.

As the rebuilding process in Bay St. Louis shifts into high gear, longtime artist and newly minted development watchdog Ellis Anderson plans to do her best to occasionally tap the brakes.

Anderson, a 48-year-old jewelry maker, already had assumed a high-profile role in the battle over development in Bay St. Louis, Waveland and surrounding Hancock County before Katrina came through and literally bulldozed nearly all of the historic buildings that she was trying to protect from "inappropriate neighbors."

Now the co-founder of Coastal Community Watch, a grassroots non-profit organization formed to fight planned condominium projects in the area, said the goal has shifted to trying to at least preserve the flavor of the town she loves.

"I don’t want to see us be Gulf Shores (Ala.)," she said, referring to the miles-long strand of condominium developments and strip malls that has sprung up in the coastal vacation resort south of Mobile over the past decades. "It would break my heart. … I don’t want to have to move. I want to be a little old lady in this house. I want to be the town eccentric, reading tarot cards or something."

Anderson said Bay St. Louis, Waveland and the county already were "under attack" by developers before Katrina turned up the pressure on local government by gutting their economies and slowing tax revenues to a trickle.

"The cities and the counties need the money more than ever now to rebuild … (and) it’s going to be very appealing to put high-density housing on the beach," said the North Carolina native, who spent more than a decade selling jewelry from a shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans before moving to the Gulf Coast in 1984

But Anderson already has shown herself to be a resourceful foe.

She formed Coastal Community Watch with local painter Lori Gordon in May -- the very day that county supervisors approved a zoning change that cleared the way for a condominium and casino project outside the nearby community of Clermont Harbor. She then proceeded to hire well-known environmental attorney Riley Morris to file a lawsuit to stop the project, figuring she’d borrow money if necessary to pay his retainer.

Fortunately for her bank balance, the plan to fight back struck a chord with the town’s populace.

"We raised about $10,000 on a weekend," she recalled. "I had somebody leave a $500 check in my shoe on the front porch. As soon as the word got out, I had people writing checks and just thrusting them at me."

As the campaign to block the county project and head off other proposed developments in Bay St. Louis and Waveland gained steam, Anderson sold the gallery she had been running in the Old Town area, figuring she could work part-time making jewelry and devote more time to the organization.

Hurricane Katrina changed the equation, as it did for so many of her neighbors. But in an odd twist, it freed up more time for her to devote to the cause by destroying the shop where all her jewelry-making tools were stored.

"I was lucky my house came through fairly unscathed and I don’t have a business anymore, so just six months of my life I’m going to take a little sabbatical and focus on this," said Anderson, Anderson, who lives in an old schoolhouse with her dogs, Frieda, a 13-year-old terrier mix and Jack, a 5-year-old border collie mix. "I don’t know if it will do any good or not, but somebody has to say something. ... And I just don’t like the idea of a few people making decisions for everybody without any input."

In addition to the more than 800 members of Coastal Community Watch that she will be representing, Anderson undoubtedly will enliven whatever public meetings she attends with the passion she feels for her adopted hometown.

"It was so quaint, so charming and quaint," she said, remembering Bay St. Louis as it existed before Katrina and, she hopes, as it will again.

"... That was the essence of this town. It did have that great ‘Mayberry’ feel to it. … It felt safe, and charming and American and relaxed and open and Southern and very, very friendly. It has a real sense of community. When you walked down the street and saw people, you knew them."

MAIN PAGE NEXT POST Officer Ernest Taylor: Good life upended

Email this EMAIL THIS

51 COMMENTS

Ellis,thankyou for all that you are doing. The Bay and Waveland are treasures full of generations of memories. We must memorialize our history by restoring the gentle peacefulness to a uniquely beautiful"hometown" of very special people. I was able to spend a few weeks in the Bay and Waveland sorting through the remnants of several of my siblings lives and will return again at Christmas time. My heart aches everytime I think of home where my dear family and friends struggle day to day to find order amidst chaos. I remember your shop and proudly wear a pair of your originals. In fact, I wore them on August 29 with my New Orleans T-shirt that sports the phrase "Let the good times role" as Katrina ripped across the Coast. In spite of all her wrath and deluge, she has barely dampened the spirit and fortitude of its citizens. I want to be able to come "home", not to a place "revitalized", a word I associate with big monied investors who have little or no concern for the local population that has loved and nurtured their towns for generations. So I support you in your efforts and add my plea to our President and all our countrymen, "help us rebuild our homes and our lives so that we may memorialize generations of Gulf Coast culture and heritage - please help us be whole again."

Ellis, I wish you the very best of luck, and hope you continue to get more of your neighbors to help back you. We need our hometown communities, that is what keeps the Heart of America going. The big time developers just come in and make their money. They don't care about the area or the people who lives there. I also wish you Courage, Patience, and Perseverance. Keep up the Wonderful Work you are doing.

Ellis, Keep up the good work. You are all in my prayers every night! I count my blessings all the time. And anybody who lives in those southern states all need to come back and rebuild. It just wouldn't be the same without all the different cultures and all the history that lies in the streets. God will prevail and all will be good again. We are Americans and nothing can hold us down! When you are down the only way to go is up! God bless you!

Ellis, always remember that after every storm, there's a rainbow. That rainbow is God's covenant with you and people of the city of New Orleans. Hold your head up and continue to help others. I, to am a Katrina Survivor. I lived in New Orleans. My grandmother tought me that God will make every bad situation a good on. So dont worry. You will make it. I love you and take care. God bless!

Ellis:
I'd like to say that I admire your convictions and can certainly understand why you would want to keep the "Mayberry" ideals. You are an artist and an entrepaneur and can make a living anywhere. Unfortunately, most people are not entrepaneurial and are not necessarily blessed with your talents. People need to make a living and I fear that perhaps some of the employers in your area will not rebuild; where will that leave most of the residents. With the developers and the amenities soon to follow, doesn't that mean jobs. There can still be a great fellowship amoung the townies but they would be employed. Just food for thought.

Ellis, with all that has happened a little change would be good for the community, the economic growth could help the rebuilding process. Growth is happening everywhere just because you don't want it doesn't mean others agree. A better tax base could help the small communities in the Bay/Waveland area. Growth will happen, you just need a master plan to guide when,where,and how much should happen.

I couldn't agree with Ellis more. We need to extend this fight to the Pass Christian and Gulfport areas as well. I hate Gulf Shores!

This is a great article about a great woman. I have had the pleasure and honor of knowing Ellis for many years because of her presence in the Bay St. Louis art community and her friendship with my late mother-in-law who lived in BSL for over twenty years.

Her recent endeavor through Coastal Community Watch is a formidable force on the Coast. Those who desire to turn our beautiful Mississippi coast into a new Destin or Gulf Shores will have to deal with Ellis, her friend and co-founder Lori Gordon as well as many of us who consider the "Coast" our home (even though some of us are only part-time residents)

For those who never heard of Bay St. Louis, Waveland or Pass Christian before Katrina should know that while we have suffered the most horrible loss of homes business and properties we are not willing to turn our communities over to developers for their own monetary gain just to see the coast "rebuilt." We are not going to sit by and allow casinos and condos to be built on our coast at the expense of those who have lived and worked here for many years.

Ellis you are the best and all of us at the Village at Henderson Point in the Pass appreciate what you are doing for us. While I can't be there physically as much as I want, I will always be with you in spirit and support you in this battle.

It's been over 20 years since I lived in New Orleans but I remember that as charming as south Louisana is I could not wait until the weekend so I could drive to the Mississippi gulf coast for fun. I was always glad when business sent me there during the week. Bay St. Louis and Waveland are special in my memories. Eight days after Katrina I went to Biloxi to deliver supplies to a family and saw the devistation first hand. (There were three of us and one man's son lives in Waveland.) Although I did not have time to get to Waveland I understood then that it was hit even harder than Bolixi. We did our duty by driving 400 miles and only stayed for two and a half hours. Just long enough to deliver supplies and respectfully get out of the way. I wish I could have done more.

I hope someday to live in an area of Florida that has the same restrictions and charm that you are fighting for. I champion your battle and hope that many in your community will assist you in bringing back that charm that I remember so well. Never give up and NEVER stop.

ellis,, olwez pray to god. that do matter wat happen he olwez care of ur family. no matter wat happen dont be give up. never stop. try harder. god bless u

Here's a stragegy for you, Ellis: Large multi-family projects should require protection for inhabitants' lives and possessions, as they gather citizens into known high-risk areas. The developers should be required to make a funded provision of a disaster/resettlement amount per family for each unit built, so that they have a continued interest in & responsibility for their developments, and so that the real cost to society (and them) will make them think twice about building in that style. Similarly, individual homeowners can be allowed to take personal responsibility for their requirement. Fair is fair. Developers have until now proven themselves only interested in build and sell, not in the entire (positive and negative) social effects and long-term responsibilities to the communities. There is a real cost to such development, and development should reflect that -- and fund it up front.

Iam hearing about the devastation that recently happening in USA.All I could say that just arise,awake and work hard to rebuild and help others as how much you can. with all prayers and love sanishdhanya

It is a very good thing you are doing. I wish someone had been so well organized to fight the rapid disappearance of the old charm of Pensacola Beach. It is turning into condo city!

Keep up the fight. We stayed in you lovely little town during a Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coast vacation a year ago. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We look forward to seeing recover, but to maintain its charm and hominess.
We have visited Gulf Shores for the last twenty five years, but prefer it as it was in the earlier years.

Ellis,
You know that I know the feeling YOU get in Bay Saint Louis. Lived there,loved it and fell in love with all the people and so many humble abodes.Wow how lucky I was to have the Navy transfer us to Stennis.When I went south to check out all the surrounding towns,there was never a question as to where I would relocate my family. Bay Saint Louis what an amazing town. I wish I would have gotten to know more of the people than I did, however having 2 babies in 22 months one is kinda boring and TIRED! I have never had the feelings about a town like I have BSL..even the town I grew up in. Ellis, I will always be here to help with anything pertaining to recovering the beauty of Bay Saint Louis. You CAN count on me!
good job.I am ready to come ...waiting on the invitation!
Love to all,
Torry Hayes

Ellis, I have never been to Bay St. Louis, but I look forward to coming there to see first hand the beauty and charm so many are talking about. I live in Savannah, Georgia and although we poke fun of our Historical (Hysterical) Society here, Savannah's charm and historical beauty would not have survived the onslaught of development throughout the years had it not been for those people who stood up and fought for it. Torry's sister, Tammy lives here and can vouch for the importance of such a battle to preserve what will certainly be lost if the developers have their way. Good luck and may God bless your efforts!
Diane, Savannah, GA

This is a terrible time for thousands aof dislocated people. I am proud to say that my husband is one of the many thousand people sent to the gulf coast to help with the cleanup effort. I think that we as americans need to praise those who are away from their homes and loved ones also. It can not be easy for those who have lost everything, but there are so many people who are leaving their homes and family to lend a helping hand. Why do we not hear about the bodies that are still being recovered from Katrina, the death toll is climbing.

Im from Bay St. Louis and have lived their all twenty-one years of my life. I have had enough of these people who want nothing for this little town more than it already has. They are so backward thinking. They didnt want casinos and look how they thrived and helped the area to boom into something more than just some little poodunk mississippi town. But these people never want change, but I do believe that it is on the way and I could not be happier. Just because they live on the right side of tracks and are financialy set they dont want anyone else to be able to profit and advance the city. I also have nothing left but a slab and have not recieved a cent from Fema.

We are heartbroken about what happened to our own city of New Orleans, but Bill and I also have friends and family all along the Coast, many of whom are in situations much worse than our own. At least New Orleans has not been completely disappeared behind the current headlines, though: please do not think, as the Coast pretty much has been, that you are not in our hearts, minds and prayers. After seeing this report on you, I went to the website for Coastal Community Watch. I applaud the work you have been doing, and wish you the best in your continued efforts to keep Bay St. Louis the very special place it is. What the mega-developers offer will, indeed, be very tempting to the local officials--and those officials are going to resort to calling those people demanding community input on problems, solutions and answers, "obstructionist." Beware the rhetoric!
Scott and Bill

This is a very good portrait of the type of people that live in BSL. Ellis has been very much part of the community, helping in all sorts of ways. Thank you for continuing your great work Ellis! Please give Jack and Freida my best - I am so glad you are all safe. I am waiting for word on Mickey Evans - if anyone can update me please do (another wonderful woman that does much for her community). Thank you MSNBC for taking the time to include this interview - it shows you what Mississippi folks are made of!

Hey Ellis, glad to see you are okay. I have a pair of your earrings that I wore out of the house when we evacuated from Pass Christian. Unfortunately, my house is gone...but I still have the earrings..wear them almost everyday. Keep up the good work.

Ellis, while your actions are commendable, they are not appropriate for a completely devistated mississippi gulf coast. Unlike you, I have lived in Hancock county all of my life where i am a business owner and a father of five. I have seen the financial opportunities slip out of the hands of the locals time and time again. Proper development will enrich not only the developers but also the land owners (locals), and the business owners (locals). It wiil also provide a much needed tax structure which will enhance economic prosperity and a strong educational foundation for our children.E

As a reply to Mister Ladner above: Do you realize that Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the top 100 Art Colonies in the United States? Proper Development? Condos and Casinos? I don't think so. Not on the beach front. Let them do what they do back where Casino Magic was in Bay St. Louis. It worked. I am curious, just what business do you own, and what is the definition of "proper development" to you?

Are you aware that there is a group of investment bankers meeting with the Mayor of Bay St. Louis this week? Thet are interested in keeping the ARTS Community alive in Bay St. Louis. There is more to offer here than the big "C's".

Soon as I finish this message, I plan to look for your address, Ellis, so I can send a check!

You have to appreciate the positive emotions of all who commented: both those who want to save the graceful lifestyle and those who want to ensure that their children do not have to LEAVE the MS coast to find work as did the generation after Hurricane Camille (yes as I did).

Unfortunately, everyone continues to avoid the hard fact that most of the Bay Waveland area is under elevation 20 feet and we know the surge went through at 33 feet. It is government policy to upgrade building codes after storm events everywhere. Unfortuanetly if the code upgardes are enforced, the only people who will be able to afford to build in the wave velocity zones south of the railroad will be heavy-weight developers.

So what's it going to be MS? An "at your own risk however you want it" beach front zone or buildings that will meet this century's code requirements.

Though I am emotioanlly in favor of the way it used to be, I also know that Bay St Louis, Waveland,a nd pass christian are darn near insolvent due to a lack of a tax base. The desperation of bankrupt municipalities and out of work, de-capatilized residents will soon reach the point where cash flow will become life or death. At that point, the developers will step in. Who will dare condemn the neighbor who sells their property in order to feed their children? Economics 101. Who will survive? Who will leave?

Bury your head or sell your soul. Katrina left no pleasant options.

Comments for this post have been closed.

TRACKBACKS

Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d8349cbfc369e2

More Rising from Ruin

Story tips?