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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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Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo says that his city was cut off from the world, with virtually every city resource lost to Katrina’s floodwaters.

WAVELAND, Miss. -- A stint as a mental health therapist might seem a strange stop on the way to a career in City Hall, but it just might have been the perfect preparation for dealing with a disaster like the one facing Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo.

For the 47-year-old Longo, dealing with frustration has been the key to keeping his sanity since Hurricane Katrina slammed his town, leveling virtually every home and business on the gulf side of the railroad tracks that bisect Waveland, and leaving most other buildings uninhabitable.

"I guess I … lost my cool a couple of times – once with the governor and once with the president’s staff," he said in an interview in his makeshift office atop the city sewage treatment plant. "But it was because of the stress."

The stress, he said, sprang from wanting to help his people in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but not having any way of doing so, with virtually every vehicle and piece of equipment owned by the city either swept away or left inoperable.

"It was having a task and knowing what to do and having the people capable to do it, just not having the resources to do it, whether it be vehicles, or parts, or pipe, material, even sand or clay," he said. "… My God, we’d have given anything for a golf cart at the time."

Adding to his stress level was the loss of his home and the fact that his family, including his injured wife, Marcia, was stuck in the devastated city.

"I didn’t get my family out of here until three days after the hurricane and my wife had a broken wrist and a broken cheekbone," he said, noticeably limping around his office as the result of knee-replacement surgery shortly before Katrina hit.

"… And I’ve got five kids … and they’d set off on their trek every day – it broke my heart – but they’d leave here and walk out to the highway every day to get ice and water and food and stuff. And it was just no place for a kid to be. It was no place for anybody to be if they didn’t have to be."

Longo, who has since sent his family to stay with relatives in Maine, knows something about places where kids shouldn’t be.

He is a son of former Waveland Mayor John Longo Jr., who was in office in 1969 when Hurricane Camille smashed into the city. The younger Longo took office seven years ago, after his predecessor became too ill to serve out his term.

Though Longo said the challenge of dealing with the destruction of much of Waveland has at times been overwhelming, he and the other city officials have made it through by setting small, achievable steps aimed at boosting the morale of the townspeople.

"Folks just needed anything that … was positive, that showed progress," he said. "We cleaned off the church; we pushed all the debris and things off the church and we started having church (services) the week after the hurricane on the slab."

Longo also noted with pride that the town already has taken its first step in the rebuilding process by attracting a Lowe’s home improvement store.

"Lowe’s had called … (to) give me their condolences … and I called and said if you want to do something for our community … open a store," he said.

The company agreed, and a ground-breaking ceremony was held in early October, although construction won’t begin until the city can set up temporary housing to accommodate the workers.

The Lowe’s deal and slow but steady progress in restoring utilities and cleaning up the sea of debris from the storm are just the first signs of Waveland’s recovery, Longo said, predicting that the building of "a model community from scratch" will occur much faster than most observers believe.
"In some ways we’re way ahead of the expectations of FEMA and the state," he said. "And I had told them early on, ‘You all are underestimating us. … We’re very resilient and very resourceful. And given just a hand, we’ll be way ahead of where you think’"

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42 COMMENTS

My heart goes out to all you brave people, and I hope that you all get a chance to rebuild your houses, and that things get a wee bit better for you.

My prayers go out to all of you affected by these hurricanes...I cant imagine how bad it must be...I think of all that you may have lost, whether it be material things or loved ones...But please be strong and know that things will get better for you...Peace be with you...

It devastated me to see that this country's government allowed Katrina victims to starve and die on the streets.Never in my life had I wished to be able to help but could not financially. All I could offer for them was my prayers, that God give them strength and hope and help them rebuild their lives.

You have my blessings and prayers for the future. After H. Andrew hit Homestead, FL in '92 the area looked bombstruck, but now we are better than before. Keep looking for the positive and plan every day for an improvement. Soon you'll see a difference.

Dear Mississippi folk, I was down there as a Disaster Response ARC worker and just returned home. My heart and prayers are still with you. I am showing pictures and telling your stories to get more attention down your way.You are not forgotten! Hang in there. All you all are truly strong, resilient and "grace under fire" type people.God Bless and Keep You in the rebuilding process.

Your strength and self-reliance are highly respected. You and your people are showing the kind of strength, independence, and ability to survive that our forefathers (and mothers) showed in the face of adversity. Congratulations.

I was based across the street from the Waveland police department for 8 weeks now. We were in town and in surrounding areas from Pearlington, The Kiln, to Ocean Springs to D'Iberville. We begged for supplies and tents and help over the phones and sent out urgent emails to all that would listen. These folks loving in these areas were the MOST beautiful people I have ever met, ALL. No matter color, religion, wealth or status in these areas. They were all so worried about one another and not them selves. BEAUTIFUL FOLKS. I am so thankful I was able to help in any way and this experience and these folks have taught me so much. I am Proud of them all and To the Waveland Police Dept. that has been so busy taking care of their communities and putting their lives on hold,PLEASE remember you are wonderful and appreciated. It is just hard right now. I have so much more to say but not enough time.

Our police, fire and city workers have done a wonderful job along with many citizens. The mayor and aldermen have obviously suffered along with the rest of us. However, it is past the time to act and the Mayor and city government are now paralyzed and inactive. Many of us want to rebuild; there are presently flood plan requirements still in place; the city is refusing to issue building permits, even for raised houses! Hancock County is issuing permits. People are moving away and not planning to return out of frustration with Mayor Longo and his administration. The city is nearly out of money; the workers will leave. Where does the the mayor think taxes are going to come from?

Mayor Longo either needs to get moving and issue building permits or RESIGN! He has clearly become an impediment to our recovery!

Do you have any specifics? Alternatives? Ideas? Or do you just have a lot of anger without solutions?

It would be wrong to let everybody repeat the mistakes of the past. I know it's hard. But doing it right is better than doing ti fast.

I too am frustrated with the slow progress of things here in Waveland but pointing fingers isn't going to make things any better. We are all in the same boat here and have to make the best of a bad situation. I too lost most of what was near and dear to me. But it could have been worse for me and many others. I don't consider myself a very religious man but this is the time to call on God to give us the strength and fortitude to make the long trek back to recovery.

I commend Mayor Longo, the Aldermen and the city's efficient and up beat staff on leading Waveland to its recovery. Although Waveland has temporarily lost thousands of her residents, we all want to offer our assistance any way we can. My wife and I built our home on Adam's Lane in 1995. We will rebuild. Waveland has been great to us and we will always support Waveland. We wish all of fellow citizens the best that life offers.

I do have specifics as mentioned Mr. Walker, et al. The present FEMA regulations can be followed; many would have to raise their homes somewhat. Issue permits based on present FEMA regulations and people will qualify for flood insurance; the city will be gone if we keep waiting. Maybe you like living in a tent or maybe you have a better alternative for your family. I have supported Mayor Longo in the past, but he is not doing what we need. I have experience with disaster recovery and logistics and the present is a critical period. People in fact are leaving - read the Sunherald, Echo, or watch WLOX interviews.

Is there anything official coming out of Waveland, website, meetings, etc.? I went to a meeting a month ago on a Friday afternoon. Could we have something on a Saturday, like Bay St. Louis has so that people may attend without missing work.

Also, I don't see many trucks and workers down there lately. Is there a reason for this? When will they start removing debris from private property?

A waveland worker told me it would take several years before things would be cleared up. We need answers to these questions so we can move on with our lives, weather it be in Waveland or somewhere else.

Most of the people I have spoken with are not coming back. Too bad.

My family has STAYED in Waveland since the storm where things are slow moving. Maybe Longo would get buidling permits, etc moving faster if he had his family here and they needed housing like mine.
LETS GET MOVING.
Longo has not been here for important meetings because he was in Maine with his family. That hurts the citizens of Waveland.
Also, check out Lowes, they were coming here BEFORE the storm.

For all in Waveland. . . . .I agree with the message that we need to do it RIGHT NOT FAST. The apartment complex across the street from my house on Waveland Ave. is going to be repaired instead of demolished. My whole neighborhood should be DEMOLISHED based on the amount of water and deaths that took place. The City, State and Federal Government officals should listen to this very carefully. . . . . I am not going to sink my SBA loan money into a neighborhood that will be worst than it was before the hurricane if proper zoning regulations aren't made and enforced. We have a great opportunity to start over and rebuild better than before. My property will be just another vacant lot with a trailer for the next 20 years (remember Camille?), if they keep allowing things like this to take place.

I believe the people who are in a hurry will be the ones who get the work done at a premium price, (labor and materials) and will probably get Half Ass work done. And for HOWARD. . . . .if you are so impassioned about getting things done or getting rid of Mayor Longo have the guts to use your full name. I realize communications may not be good between the City and the Citizens but why not go to a meeting and make a suggestion for a community bulletin board or newsletter etc. Or since you have such experience in Diaster Recover, offer your help not your opinions. There are too many "ANGRY" people in the Bay St.Louis / Waveland area. It's not the city's fault, FEMA's Fault, the State's Fault, most of us didn't have the proper insurance or are in this position. Stop complaining and make a plan which is best for your family and situation and move on. . . .

As a suggestion to the City & Citizens of Waveland. I would like to recommend that we as citizens of the city vote to set-a-side money for a fund for a "Hurricane Relief" truck which will be dispatched to neighboring communities effected by future hurricanes to lend our support and to say "THANK YOU" for all of the help and support we received from outside communities over the last few months.

I for one will donate one week of my vacation time to help man this truck each year. It should be manned by not only police, fireman etc, but citizens who can lend their strong backs or professional expertise to the relief effort. If we do it right, we can be a part of a FEMA relief effort and obtain the proper training and additional funding to do the job required. Anyone else like the idea?????

I have lived in Waveland for 27 years now. I plan to continue to live here. I would like to see the leaders of this city put a ban on prefab metl buildings. They are ugly, and dangerous in high wind situations. Yet almost every building in Waveland especially on Hwy 90 was prefab. Lets take this time to do things the right way, not just the quick way. I agree Longo needs to go...we need strong innovative leaders. The good old boy system has got to come to an end!

To CJ Loano - City of Waveland has a bulltentin board. If YOU were at the meeting Tuesday (11/1) you were have heard that. I checked it out yesterday and what was posted NOTHING regarding rebuilding the city, rules, events, not even when the city meetings are held. Was I SURPRISED? No, but still very disappointed in Waveland. I wish I lived in the BAY!

One of the moast effective ways of rebuilding is COMMUNICATION. Mayor Favre is hosting Saturday meetings - for good or for bad - and information is flowing. I have tried my utmost to be the conduit thru which information on Hancock County is free-flowing and will continue to do so as long as I am able. MSNBC.com has done an incredible job of covering this area and keeping it in the forefront of the disaster recovery and rebuilding. We, at the Gulf Coast News.com applaud you and thank you for the tremendous job you're doing highlighting the plight of these communities.

I lived on Lafitte Dr. and left on Aug. 29th ahead of the hurricane and am devastated by the news from down there. I hope everyone will work together and rebuild. Waveland was a great place to live.

I have been to Waveland twice since the storm. My wife and about six other couples came and brought food and supplies to help as much as we could.
I can only imagine what it would be like to try and getthe urge to stay there after all the damage we saw.
My heart and prayers go out to all of you.

Speaking of lack of planning and oversight....There was a successful low-income housing project with about 10 homes on Russell off Old Spanish Trail in Waveland. Each home had an ample yard. Since Katrina, they have bulldozed them all and are now putting in an extremely dense FEMA trailer park. In what was the backyards of 5 houses, they have placed 25 trailers. It appears they are going to jam 100 trailers on this lot! I know we need places for trailers, but this is just asking for TROUBLE! I know this is temporary--but it could be 2 years, and this kind of density for 2 years will bring nothing but crime and family problems to this area, as demonstrated in studies and over and over again by experience. People cannot live like this for an extended peiod of time.

WHO is responsible for this and WHERE can we contact them? Old city phone numbers do not work, and I cannot find what the new ones are. Does anyone know??

I love Waveland, MS and pray that we do it right - even if it takes time. If you look hard enough past the debris and rubble, it is still one of the most beautiful settings around and can be a better city than before. One day at a time and with God's grace we will continue to move forward. I know that it is hard to see any improvements because of the complete devastation but it is happening....one day at a time.

Dear Residents of Waveland,
I have been watching your progress with interest. My son, a firefighter and member of our town’s swift-water rescue team, was one of the first rescue workers to come to Waveland immediately after Katrina hit. He had been mobilized by Alabama’s EMA to go to Mobile. When they got there they were told they were not needed and to go home. Not taking that for an answer he called Governor Riley’s office to get authorization to go to Mississippi. They were finally given that order and arrived in Waveland on August 29. What they found was utter devastation. He told me later, “Mom, it looked like a bomb had hit”. They stayed there a week, living in their equipment trailer in the old Wal-Mart parking lot, searching for survivers and doing as much clean up as they could.
It breaks my heart to think of the losses which you folks have experienced. I say prayers for you all on a daily basis that your lives will get back to some semblance of what used to be. It sounds as though many of you are discouraged by the slowness of the recovery, as I’m sure I would be. However, you now have a real opportunity to be stronger than you were before and to be a model of how one community which was left in ruins has pulled together and become a shining example for others.

Dear Waveland,
On Aug. 29th I sat in my home in Illinos and watched history come ashore. I was glued to the TV...Withing days our church leaders were directing plans of aid.
You were in our prayers then & now....3 months later. Teams from our church have traveled twice a week to what we call Camp Katrina....your K-Mart parking lot. They say seeing is believing...it's just too hard to tell what devestation looks like. I hope we brought a little sunshine and lots of love to leave with you. I was there October 4-9 and then one month later Nov. 4-10. I can't wait to return to the beauty of Waveland knowing the beauty of it's people.
God bless you and keep you in His grace.
call on Him...he is a good God!

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