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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.

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

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WAVELAND, Miss. -- The building blocks of John and Pat Ellis’ future lie in the rubble of their 4,000-square-foot rambler, leveled seven weeks ago by the winds and waves of Hurricane Katrina.

“Our interest right now is saving the brick,” says John Ellis as he roams his debris-covered acre-plus lot on Waveland’s Nicholson Avenue. “It’s old Chicago brick.”

The sand-colored blocks were once an elegant façade on the Ellises’ 30-year-old home, whose U-shaped floor plan enclosed a courtyard beneath a ceiling of live oaks. Unsure of just what the days, months and years ahead hold in terms of rebuilding their lives and their home, the couple is certain of one thing: the bricks will be part of the new structure, spanning the gaping void left by a storm that took virtually all of their belongings.

John, 63, and Pat, 58, are among the first residents of Waveland who lost everything to return to their land, struggling to move forward in a landscape that looks more like the result of an atom bomb than a natural disaster.

“We came back to just total, total devastation,” Pat says. “Nothing is standing” in what was once a neighborhood of $300,000 to $500,000 homes just a few hundred yards from the gulf shore.

“The furniture is not to be seen,” says Pat. “There’s automobiles that do not belong to us, the roofs on our lot do not belong to us. … This roof right here is from next door. That’s our roof way over there.”

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From their property, the Ellis' can see pieces of their home on a neighbor's lot. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

Waveland will come back, John believes, but “it’s going to be a solid year before we can stand on our own two feet and say, ‘We can take it from here.’”

Since the storm, the couple has been staying in a pair of tents pitched amid piles of wreckage and reclaimed bricks. They admit they are luckier than many storm victims: Because John, a civilian oceanographer with the Navy, has a long-term assignment in Norfolk, Va., they own a condo there. But it’s furnished with mismatched, hand-me-down items, more of a hotel room to them than a home; all but a few of their most-cherished belongings perished with the Waveland home.

On Tuesday, the Ellises were scheduled for a big improvement in their new lifestyle. They were off to take possession of a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, awaiting them in nearby Buccaneer State Park. They weren’t allowed to have the trailer on their own property because of a lack of utilities in the neighborhood, but the roof and walls and indoor plumbing will be a welcome respite from the thin nylon tents that have been home beneath the relentless October sun.

As they chatted with friends and neighbors just before leaving to collect the keys, the tanned, athletic-looking couple talked about how, in John’s words, Katrina “kind of changed our entire outlook.”

For starters, they have been almost overwhelmed by the assistance offered by churches and other private relief organizations. This week, a trio of church volunteers from Washington state stopped by and helped the couple gather and clean bricks, piling up thousands in a few hours.

And John is pretty sure he’ll retire soon, a year or so earlier than they were planning, so they can oversee the cleanup of their lot, due to begin next week under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers. Then, they’ll spend a few months away, likely with a daughter in Alaska, before returning to see what they are allowed to rebuild.

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Pat Ellis and her husband are salvaging thousands of old bricks from the rubble of their destryoed home.  They'll use the bricks in a new residence on the same property. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

Money will be a big factor. John says the company that carried their homeowners insurance is refusing to pay a cent, saying the damage was all caused by flooding, acting in lockstep with other insurers and raising his suspicions of collusion. They did have flood insurance, which he says will give them “30 cents on the dollar,” or $131,000 to replace a house valued at over $400,000.

While the couple is not worried much about their personal plight, they are concerned that as news coverage of the disaster fades, so will relief efforts. “Pat and I will be fine,” John says, but “we have some people along this coast who really depend on this.”

Adds Pat: “There’s a lot of people that are hurting a lot worse than we are, I guarantee you that.”

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10 COMMENTS

We must never forget those who are trying to rebuild after the news media packs up.

As for the insurance carriers who are attempting to, "weasel" out of their contractual obligations? Shame! All the homeowners should band together for a class action lawsuit.

And meanwhile the insurance companies are running ads explaining "how much they care" BULL!!!!!! And even though they are telling people how they ARE NOT going to pay, they will complain later when they go up on our rates, about how much they money that they paid to homeowners because they cared so much. I only hope that the Government does something about this.

My Daddy lives in a small town West of Mobile, he was lucky, only lost part of the roof and a couple windows blown out, his insurance company paid $1000.00 for all damage, (because of depreciation) that is not even enough to partially fix the roof, much less the windows. I believe the insurance companies are doing everything they can to keep from paying. It is not right that you pay your premiums and then get little or no help.

I am a resident of Bay St. Louis, MS. and still am unable to return home. I had a 2800 SF home that made it through Camille but not Katrina! I have a garage 600 SF apartment that I am waiting for the current tenant to leave. I am on leave from my job without pay. My youngest daughter wants to finish her senior year at Bay High. I don't know if I will rebuild. I have till her graduation to decide.

I want to rebuild! I live on the corner of Harbor and Cardinal not quite Waveland or the Bay, but right on the edge of both in Hancock County. The storm surge ruined everything we owned in our 28X70 2000 model double wide (raised ten inches higher than the flood stage limit.) We are going to rebuild as soon as we can afford too. Small town charm will never go out of style, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Where your neighbors and total strangers wave to you when you/they pass. My daughter wants to see her friends and teachers from Gulfview Elm again. But we are all in limbo until the utilities are fixed and we have a roof over our head, that is up to code-which is being rewritten, and if we don't get ripped off by the Insurance agencies or forced to pay back FEMA money, etc;etc;etc;....Why does our country as part of the United Nations grant pardons and monetary relief to every country in peril but the USA? Katrina storm surge was the same thing as the India tsunami or the Pakistani earthquake. The United Nations should be looking out for the people of the United states too!

I am from the Bay/Waveland area. Although I've not lived there in 3 years, I had always planned on going back. Those plans have not changed, but have just been delayed. My family is all still down there. My brother and sister both lost homes and businesses. They and their families are now living in what we jokingly/lovingly refer to as FEMA mansions. Although they both had insurance- including flood insurance- they are still facing difficulties collecting anything from this. Until you've lived in one of these communities, you truly do not understand the bond between residents and the desire to rebuild. I hope that those who posted negative comments on the cost of rebuilding never face what we're facing there. You cannot put a price tag on peace of mind. You cannot measure in dollars the sense of community felt in the Bay/Waveland area, as well as the outer-lying Hancock County areas. My prayers are with you all, and I'll be home soon!!

I'm writing to agree with the message from Jon-Bay above expressing disappointment in how our own government and the United Nations too ignore the natural disaster that was hurrican Katrina while pouring millions into disaster areas such as Pakistan and the tsunami areas. It's shameful.

i would love to help rebuild a house i am a carpenter and willing to help

Momma and Daddy...I love the courage you have shown during this horrible disaster. I love you both and pray to God for you every day.

I am a roofer and would like to help.

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