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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. — For several weeks after Katrina, Raymond Cuevas, Commander of the American Legion Post 77, saw nothing much to salvage from the organization’s lodge on the waterfront. The 13,000 square foot facility was ripped clean off the foundation, leaving steel I-beams in a heap like so much spaghetti.

But just last week, after much searching, he found the organization’s safe in the trees, about 100 yards away from the building site. As he had hoped, about $6,000 that he had left in the safe was still inside. The problem was, as he discovered after using a blow torch to open the safe, it was also filled with a soupy, foul-smelling mud. So began the torturous process of money laundering.

Dollar by dollar – literally, since much of the total was in one- and five-dollar bills from a recent bingo night – Cuevas has washed the currency in a bucket in his backyard, and gingerly laid it out to dry. Much to his wife’s chagrin, he’s used the brand new kitchen floor as a drying surface.

Remarkably, over the last several days, Cuevas has recovered close to $6,000. About $150 or so remains, he figures. He shows us a box of fragments that look like they’ve been worked on by worms in a compost heap. He’s been back and forth to the bank several times to trade in the faded fragments of money, to the point where the tellers are less than enthusiastic about his mission.

“Them ladies in the bank don’t want to see me anymore,” he says, having just discovered, and washed, another dollar bill. “They say it stinks!”

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11 COMMENTS

Most states and cities would do well to have someone like that fella watch over our tax dollars like he does the Post's money.

if only the sense of mission that this gentleman has, extended to those, who are supposed to be our elected overseers of law and finance control.

Can this damaged currency be replaced dollar for dollar by the Treasury dept? I'm sure a bank could assist. I seem to remember that as a kid with a torn bill, I turned it in and got a proper replacement.

bless legion post 77 ...they will over come . thank you for being there when your country needed you god bless

the treasury has a section devoted to replacing damaged bills. its a shame that the news organizations sat back and kept it quiet just so they would have a story to write

there is adept with the treasury that will try to prove the denominations and replace

ditto on the tax comment... somebody ought to send this man to DC.

With all the trauma of the hurricane and all the lives that were severly effected, it is amazing how bright a positive action seems.

Again, kudos to Raymond. There aren't too many people in the world that would be that ambitious. Let's also commend his honesty, another trait lacking in today's society.

I met this man at the Waveland Cafe. He is a great American. He has stayed busy helping his neighbors recover as well. He even bought the volunteers some Mardi Gras necklaces and boxes and boxes of stuffed animals to give to the kids. We would say, "This little bear lost his home to the storm, can you take care of him for me?" The children would reach out and take them and give them great big hugs, here was someone they could relate to! Nice to know someone like you Raymond! Hope to see you again! Good luck with your new plants and your ceremony on Nov. 11th!
Karen from Tampa.

Hey Raymond,

It's Dane. Looks like your ready to run for office by the postings left here. Hope all is going well for you. Take care.

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