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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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A native of Bay St. Louis and a 14-year veteran of its police force, Officer Ernest Taylor has seen the town through integration, growth and, now, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  Click Play to hear him talk about how the town will never be the same.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – If you are Officer Ernest Taylor, life in this small Gulf Coast town has been pretty good to you and a lot of others. So far.

You were born here, a child of the ’60s, in a place where people know their neighbors and care about them. It’s a place where jumbo shrimp are available at four or five bucks a pound "right off the boat" just across the bay in Pass Christian, where you can fish away summer evenings while the sun hangs low over the gulf, where you can marry your girl and buy a nice house in Spanish Acres and raise three sons and live a full and gentle life just like the kind of man you are, a trustee and deacon at your church and your police department’s school resource officer.

It’s not perfect. No. As a child, you attend segregated schools and, at age 7, are in the first audience allowed to sit in what used to be the "white seats" in the town theater. You see a John Wayne movie.

In the summer, there’s a stand where you get snowballs and eat them with your friends underneath the giant oak tree at South Beach Boulevard and Washington Street. Years later, your kids will do the same.

It is a good town and getting better, even though, as you say, "it still has a long way to go" on many things.

"Easy living," you recall. "Everybody knew everybody. If you grew up here and did something wrong, they’d just call your parents or your grandparents."

In ’69, you ride out Hurricane Camille in a local school that has yet to be integrated and then your family moves to Houston to escape the devastation. But you always come back, every summer, because your grandparents still live here and the snowball stand is still here and so is the big oak tree and this is really home. Then you’re 22, your grandfather is ill and you are back to stay, working as a machinist at NASA’s nearby Stennis Space Center.

A few years later, the new police chief brings you on the force. Bay St. Louis is a good place to be a cop, little crime and a laid-back department where callers are greeted as "baby" by a honey-voiced dispatcher. Even now, with your police radio crackling "once in a blue moon," you can still keep an ear on FM 98.5 as you cruise the streets.

Your boys grow up and so does your town, from "just a Winn-Dixie" to Burger King and McDonalds and Wal-Mart and Rite-Aid and too many stoplights to count anymore. The school that saved your family from Camille is the police station now.

And then you’re 43 and you’ve been a cop for 14 years and the awful day comes. It’s Aug. 29, 2005, and in a few hours of mad horror, Hurricane Katrina changes it all. They just don’t make verbs for what she did to Bay St. Louis so the elegant simplicity of your words says it all: "Nothing is the same."

18 frenetic hours
But you are a cop, and a good one, so you go to work. For 18 hours, there’s no sleep as you and fellow officers conduct search and rescue missions.

When the winds stop and the waters recede, you thread your way through the rubble-clotted streets and have a look. Remarkably, your own house fared pretty well. And at the police station, "We had water all around us, it just didn’t get to that particular area."

But the rest of what you see is devastating. Your bearings, all the way from your boyhood to your work on the beat, have disappeared. "That’s the hardest thing," you say, "the landmarks are gone. … Like you knew this street was Bay Oaks because you had the doctor’s house here."

With the schools shut in the wake of the storm, you’re back on the streets, but classes will resume Nov. 7 and you’ve been pondering what you will find among the high school kids. Before, you refereed "boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, fights, the normal things kids do."

Now? Some of the kids have homes and some don’t. You’re hopeful that Katrina’s indiscriminate destruction may bring the students closer together. "Everyone’s at the same level, no big person, no little person."

You’ve certainly seen that among adults. The other day you found yourself in a food line with a banker and a real estate mogul. "Before, that never would have happened."

Youngest son living in Houston
But despite your own calm strength and your faith that Bay St. Louis will rise again, there are dark moments. Your youngest son, 13, has been sent to Houston where he has begun school and may stay for the whole year. "It’s a little difficult" for you and your wife, Lotus, because "he’s the baby."

Your grandmother’s once splendid white frame house at the corner of Sycamore and Old Spanish Trail, now splintered and wrecked by Katrina, is an unavoidable sight on patrols.

And there is the nagging question of your own future. With the town’s coffers plundered in every conceivable way by Katrina, "Will I still have a job? How will they keep me?"

Whatever the answer, just like you decided all those years ago, you will stay in Bay St. Louis. It is home.

"I’m not going anywhere."

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96 COMMENTS

good story.

These are the stories that need to be covered. Not pets abandoned to the storm by selfish owners.

Give me the stories of how the residents are making it through each day and night and building their towns back.

I don't need another story about how the Feds should have done this or how LA should have done that. Fact is, everyone should have left and they didn't, so we have to clean up the dead. Next, learn from the mistakes and do better next time. Have a plan AND STICK TO IT.

Thanks again for this story. I appreciate the frank and honest way it was told. Refreshing.

Yes, you will stay and rebuilt because it is home - there are a lot of people out there who cannot fathom this.

God Bless You and Good Luck in rebuilding the Gulf Coast and your lives.

This man is what makes this country great; deep down almost every American is color blind it's just sometimes we don't know it until it exhibits itself

My hat is off to him. May God bless him and his family.

Mr. Taylor - I don't know Bay St. Louis, but I know small towns. And small towns need people like you to rebuild them. You love your son enough to see that he has a proper education, so love your town enough to see that it is rebuilt. You carry more than a badge - you carry the history, the memories, the hopes and the dreams of Bay St. Louis. Don't let them be destroyed by Mother Nature. I don't know you, but yet I do. You are the man I would turn to in times of trouble if I were in your town. You're in my thoughts, you're in my prayers, because you are the heart and soul of small town America. God bless you.

I grew up in the Southern Alabama (The Eastern Shore)& I could see every imaging you were describing in your story. There really was no need for a street sign, you always remembered the "landmarks".

My heart felt for this man and of couse many others--I hope you keep tabs on him and he has his menories back.

On the eve of Wilma making an appearance in Florida (which is where I am) I say this. The people who stayed behind in New Orleans didn't have the means to get out otherwise they would have; (ii) We all need to recognize there but for the grace of God go I and stop rolling around in pointing fingers at the folks affected here and their current plight and HELP THEM recover; and (iii) the animals are innocent victims too and deserve our compassion and support. How did we go from being such a caring country of "Kinder Gentler" to "the hell with everyone else, let them deal with their own problems I have my own"... It's a sad time in our country. No accountability and no responsibility. The buck truly starts with Bush (is he back from vacay yet?)

This is a heart warming story. Stay strong and God will be with you every step of the journey. This country is praying for everyone who has been devastated by these hurricanes. God Bless everyone whose life has been wrecked.

Wow.. we all take so much for granted living in the Northwest where we have such mild weather. Occasional earthquakes and small burst of vulcanic activity from our two mountains... but the strength these people show, teaches us all that we really have much to be thankful for. My heart goes out to all those effected by these storms! I wish I could help them all!

well its sounds like your doing a good job for your community so keep it up and god bless you and your family.

A very compelling and beautifully-written story. My prayers go out to Mr. Taylor for the strength and the resilience his family will need as they persevere.

No Matter what you go thru Jesus Christ will always make a Way for you the Bible calls it a "Way of Escape". Know that you can begin again, and this time things will be better than before. PS: 20 Lelia

Dear Officer Taylor, You are the epitome of what an
unsung hero is all about. May the good Lord continue to watch over you and your wonderful wife and the parents and grandparents who inculcated in you all that you are!
Hang in there! Wish you all the best.

I can't imagine losing everything, but my memories. God Bless you as you help your town to heal.
Debi Ingram, Lacey, WA

I admire your true American Spirit and determination.
You set a great example for us all. Thank you.

What an awsome story, tyhank you for bringing this to us. Officer Taylow, you are truly a hero. May you have your family all together again soon, and may your son make a good year with good friends at his school. The future will bring many good things as people like you inspire goodness.

Peace be upon you and your family.

Dear Mr. Taylor, your story is the most heart warming and encouraging one I have heard from down there in the disaster area. God bless you and all of yours. Take the strength of all those who have written to support you and add it to yours. Wonderful things are ahead.

Thank you Officer Taylor and God Bless you and all the others that have endured this great loss, they say the good Lord does not gives us more than we can handle but some times we question his reasoning.
But your memories will sustain you and help you to rebuild the community you so loved as a child ....things and posessions might be destoryed but they Can Not take away the memories
Hugs

I am a resident of Mobile, Al, and have a brother-in-law who is in the police academy for the waveland police department. I hope he can take inspiration from Officer Taylor's story and be an example for his community like this gentleman has. Best wishes for you Officer Taylor-you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Officer Taylor--God bless you, your family, the citizens of Bay St. Louis, and others that were affected by Katrina. Thank you for letting us into your thoughts and feelings because this has been one of only a few pieces written on Katrina that actually matter: after all the finger-pointing and the price-tag of rebuilding, people are all that matter.

I think the second person narration is a little cheesy, sorry.

Wonderful, engaging story about a good man facing tragedy with good sense, heart, and dignity. The world would be a better place with more people like Officer Ernest Taylor. God bless him and his.
Stories like this are what I like to read best in the news.

Out of overwhelming tragedy Americans always step forward. This man epitomizes the greatness of the American sprit.

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