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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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By Randy Ponder
Publisher, Sea Coast Echo

Many people are leaving and not coming back to Hancock County in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Ground zero is not a pretty picture. Almost total destruction along the highly desirable beach front of Bay St. Louis, Waveland, etc. No homes, no businesses, just mounds of debris. Homes, which were in many cases, occupied by generations of the same family, lay in ruins. The 30 foot or higher storm surge extended miles inland, wrecking property all the way to Diamondhead and the Kiln. Pearlington, Clermont Harbor, Lakeshore, just about everywhere, all was washed away. The dreams and life-long work and determination of getting things "just right" wiped out in a few hours by the awesome power of Mother Nature. People's lives and possessions, simply gone.

Many will rebuild, others will not. Many are young and have the time and energy to endue years of struggles to hopefully someday achieve some semblance of normalcy. Others are not as young and perhaps do not have the luxury of time.

Some have the financial ability to do as they wish. Others are dependent upon the response of insurance companies or others to make the final decision to stay or leave.

A Rotarian friend of mine has relocated to the Carolinas. In a tearful goodbye, he simply said he had lost his home and that he did not have 20 years left, that he just could not remain here, struggling to simply survive. He needed more structure in his retirement years.

A well known couple from Waveland has relocated to Georgia. Their home was totally destroyed and their jobs ceased to exist. In addition, their children are grown and gone. They said they no longer had any reason to stay.

One friend said he had stayed for Camille and now for Katrina and had survived both. He felt he now has two strikes against him. He will not hang around for strike three. He's out of here.

Another friend, who is not going anywhere, put things in a different perspective. His thoughts are that the people who belong here will stay here and the ones who do not will leave. It will be more like before the casinos arrived, he concluded.

I suppose I could leave as well, except for a few minor details. This is my home by choice. No, I was not born here, but as many have said before, I got here just as quick as I could. It was 1971 to be exact, just two years after Camille. I missed most of the rebuilding from that hurricane, but still remember how different this area was then. Very laid-back, just a few tourists in the summer months, mostly New Orleans folks over for the weekend, and then roll in the sidewalks for the rest of the year. Most businesses closed at noon on Wednesdays and almost nothing was open on the weekends. No big chain stores nor fast-food joints.

I have roots here. My wife is a native and most of her extended family still lives in the area. I also have friends here. Too many to even begin to count. In fact, just about everyone you meet here becomes an instant friend. Hancock County is a scenic location, blessed with natural beauty, but it is its people which makes it such a desirable place to live.

I also publish the Sea Coast Echo newspaper. This newspaper is very important to me and to this community. The Echo missed only one edition following Katrina. We were on the streets the same week the hurricane roared in. Probably the Echo was the first business back up and running after the storm in the hardest hit areas south of Highway 90. The paper may be a mere shadow of its former self, but it is still here. A handful of dedicated individuals, such as news editor Geoff Belcher, sacrificed much in their personal lives in a heroic effort to keep the Echo going. Instead of being at their own homes, pulling out wet carpet and ruined appliances, they were fulfilling a critical need, getting vital information out to a shocked community. The rest of the world may have overlooked or forgotten Hancock County, but the Echo was here, bringing a little sense of normalcy to its citizens.

Read previous dispatch about the Sea Echo's coverage of Katrina

Yea, I guess I could leave, but then again, I have a geographical handicap, I love this area.

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66 COMMENTS

I wish you well on your decision to stay. While New Orleans will inevitably be different, people like you have a chance to make New Orleans in your vision.

My sister got the news last week that her trailer would be delivered within 7-10 business days. She called me with the good news. I couldn't tell her how my heart was breaking because I prayed that she had had enough and wanted to relocate. The trailer will sit next to her damaged home in Lake Arthur, LA. A home that belonged to her parents that will either be demolished or rebuilt. She has chosen to stay.

I see both viewpoints...It has to be a really difficult decision to make...
I have a brother-in-law from Waveland who relocated his family to TX, and another brother-in-law who has chosen to stay to try and rebuild...Granma and Granpa have relocated to SC for now, but will be back I'm sure when their house is refurbished (but that could take a very long time)...
I can understand not wanting to look and smell debris piles everyday, I can understand not wanting to stand in line for a half hour for a loaf of bread, I can understand not wanting to have to remember what life used to be like before Katrina...
But,I can also see where you'd want to be a part of the rebuilding of a "new" community, I can see how you'd want to be a survivor and be able to tell future generations how you rebuilt your life from scratch...
But, really whatever each person decides it's ultimately up to them, because they are the only ones who can decide their true destiny...
Best Wishes,
JoAnn Bush
Los Angeles, CA
www.generation2b.com

I can only imagine the horrific sight of seeing your home distroyed, everything that you have woked for completely gone. I do know what it is like to be without a home though. I've been in 4 car accidents and have a bad neck, back & right arrm. I had to stay with different relatives while getting back to normal. It took 5 years, I'm on disability, but it was worth the wait. It will be worth the wait for you too. God bless you and stay strong.

This man has ink in his veins! God bless you!

Thanks for the Echo. We are displaced and haven't had it although I understand you will be mailing again soon. We want to return for the same reasons you stated; however, Waveland won't issue building permits. We have multiple properties and will depend on rent for our retirement income in the near future. If we can't rebuild soon in Waveland, we will have to invest elsewhere. Please put your editorial pressure on Mayor Longo and the Aldermen, otherwise Waveland will just shrink. Our next door neighbors are going to decide in the next two weeks whether to stay. They haven't been able to get a building permit either so they are thinking about moving to Missouri. We will have to decide soon whether to stay or move to South Carolina.

Such bravery and strength, either the strength to stay or the bravery to move on. God bless everyone in their decisions.

I can't imagine Hancock County without the Echo. It was probably the first newspaper I ever read. For years after I left the county I had a subscription mailed to me. Keep up the good work.

Thank you for saying that somewhere other than New Orleans was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. I live on and love the Gulf Coast too (Mobile,AL) and nationally
no one seems to care that Mississippi was so so devastated, only New Orleans. In one "joke" after, I read that MS had a tree down and AL, one limb off of one tree. So, please, keep writing and telling how much others were hurt and how we stay because we love it. (or maybe because we got hit by that one limb)

I am grateful for these articles about Bay-Waveland. I am so glad someone in the media took an interest in that wonderul place so that those of us that are far from home can see and hear some news about the place we love. I was born and raised in Bay St. Louis, graduated from Bay High in 1981 (Geaux Tigers). My parents were both born there, married in Clermont Harbor Methodist Church in 1961. My parents owned an old two-story victorian home right off the beach, (it became a bed & breakfast) which my dad said is now beach front property (whats left of it). My children spent there early years there too. We have family and friends still there. They are planning on rebuilding. I will always love that town and the people that live there. No where else like it. Because of my husbands job we relocated three years ago to South Carolina. We like it here but Bay St. Louis will always be in my heart. I used to ride my horse on the beach at sunset (before the casinos) and walked to the neighborhood Bobbie Ann's Bakery near the railroad tracks for doughnuts and brownies on Saturday morning with my cousins. I saw "Jaws" at the Star Theatre on the Beach. We ate Chocolate Snowballs at Sellier's. My friends and I would have bon fires on the beach and we would go to Sonic for tater tots and to hang out after a ball game. Fourth of July was awesome there because the whole beach would be lit up with bon fires, lots of people and fireworks. It is a real community. If people are looking for a place to live they can all come live in South Carolina with me. I miss everybody. Please Bay St. Louis and Waveland don't give up, rebuild and make that community even better. I want a place to go home too.

You are all survivors, dont forget that. You can do this. Everyone of you that has been hit by these terrible hurricanes, have been in so may peoples prayers. People you dont even know.
God Bless

I have relocated to Clinton, TN near Knoxville from Waveland. Due to the lose of my job there in Gulfport. I read the MS coast news every morning. I miss my home. I miss my friends. My family is still in Van Cleave waiting on FEMA trailer. I miss them. I have no one but daughter here in TN with me. She misses her friends at Bay High. The mountains are beautiful. But it is not home. One day we will return to the Coast of MS. My heart, my home. Love and miss all of ya'll. Keep up the great work and DON'T GIVE UP!!

I wish all of you the very best in life. I can not imagine your loss. I know people are prying for your strength each and every day and I hope soon your lives will be blessed with a new beginning. Keep up your hard work and God will bless each of you...Good Luck!!

To the residents of Waveland...........please don't give up. Mayor Longo is working very hard, but things won't happen fast if you want it done right. Easy for me to say, I know....I am not living it.

Don't give up on your Mayor. He really is looking out for you- he works long hard hours exploring each and every avenue for rebuilding the city and getting the people what they need to rebuild.

I just know that anger isn't the answer- unite together and use your energy to rebuild your beautiful beach community. Support your Mayor and each other!

For what it's worth, with Mayor Longo's family safe in Maine he is able to focus on YOU, the people of Waveland!

i have heard so much wonderful things about the spirit of Waveland that i wished our home was as warm. a family member recently spent some time helping recovery there and he felt he had a life-change situation from all the passion from one small town - there is a lot of negative out here over this disaster, but i don't see it in the eye of Waveland! Prayers of strength to you all - and i hold on to that spirit i heard about - there is a lot of good to come out of your experience, open your hearts to see that it just didnt happen in Waveland, it happened throughout the country - in all of our hearts.

smiles,

Since this storm I have been through a lot of mood swings but I have not cried. After I read this article the tears started. Three couples that my husband and I have been very close to for more years than I can remember have all moved, two have no homes left and the other doesn't want to go through another hurricane (they were here during Camille). One day I feel I just have to go then the next you can't blast me out of here. We were rebuilding our house that burned so we had already lost everything - but now we have to start over rebuilding because this structure was destroyed. But my heart just breaks for all that have lost so much more than me.

Please start mailing out the Echo as soon as possible. My family members bring it back to Baton Rouge after trips to Waveland. We would love to start receiving it again. If we are living out of town now but were having it delivered, can we e-mail an address for it to be mailed to us?

I loved your area too, especially a little seafood restaurant on the shore at Bay St. Louis next to the railroad bridge which I am sure is gone now. What a shame that such things happen to nice folks and places. For some reason, we here in Tampa have managed to dodge the bullet for many years. I am glad you are staying there but I hope you evacuate in time if another one comes your way. Best of luck you all!

To quote an insurance adjuster I met in passing. The difference in New Orleans and Biloxi, the residents in New Orleans would point to the roof of their house sticking out of the water. At least it is still there. In Biloxi, they point to the general area where it was. I own land in Biloxi and rentals on Dauphin Island, AL. I am amazed at the bids/scams by our government. Lets face it, I'm glad the cruise ships are being used for emergency shelter but $48K+ per person for only a six month stay??? Why not buy them a small house in the country for life. Check the prices! As for the insurance companies, my insurance company lost my flood claim for 2 months! My adjuster failed to reply to both my emails and phone calls. Once my agent tracked down his boss, they claimed 2 weeks ago things were under control and the paperwork would be in within the day. As of today, NOTHING. Now they act like its my fault.
If anyone needs a place to rent on Dauphin Island, AL give me an email. I know of a few places. Its a little over an hour back to Biloxi, MS. Best of luck to everyone and start complaining! Clearly, money is being spent/wasted and not enough is being done.

Our family left Waveland not to return after losing our home during Camille.I have been back for a couple visits and even stopped for a snow cone at the old theater in Bay St. Louis in 2000. Thought it might be nice to even get a place down there to retire since I have some family still in Miss. near Ocean Springs and real estate prices here are beyond belief. Well, now I think not and truly hope the best for all those who have lost it all and will endeavor to rise again. We have given generously to relief efforts as I know first hand what the struggle is like.Saw a picture of St.Clare school and church where I attended and was speechless. We lived just up the street on Vacation Lane when Camille struck.Again, all the best to Mr. Longo and the community.

Like an earlier posting, I believe The Echo was the 1st newspaper I ever read. I am a BSL/Waveland native, I have relocated to Sebastian Florida from the Slidell area. My father was Hancock County Fire Marshall for many years, and because of his love for area, he taught me to respect and enjoy the little things. I miss the area, and know that those who stay will make it just as beautiful as it was. Thank you for being the best little town newspaper editor there is!

I like to say I am "a Texan by birth, but a Mississippian by choice". We moved here 3 months after Hurricane Camille and you could tell there was a lot of work to be done to recover. The funny thing, here it is almost 3 months after Katrina and the evidence of destruction is still overwhelming. There is so much widespread devestation on the south of the railroad tracks, it makes you wonder if it will ever come back. You can't get down there without a pass but I've been able to get down there a couple of times -- and it is still so awful that I cry every time I go down there. It's like it just happened. But this is home and I don't want to be anywhere else, so we'll stay and do what has to be done to get on with life.

My name is James Powell. I'm an emergency dispatcher in Southaven, MS.(DeSoto County) I had the oportunity to go to Hancock Co. this past week and work in the LE Dispatch center. The center is a temporary location from which to dispatch all the police and fire agencies in the county. Note that these agencies were all separate entities before the storm. While I was there I had pleasure of meeting some of those "people" you spoke of. The thirteen dispatchers and a few police officers I met were amoung the nicest and most heroic Ive ever seen. I heard stories of these dispatchers working on the night Katrina hit and how they were trying to stay and run their agencies as long as possible. A couple of them from one agiency said they stayed until they were forced to swim to the top of the police station roof and climb out through a hatch. All 13 of them lost everything. They are all now living in FEMA trailors, that is, when they are not working 12 and 16 hour shifts. The city I work for donated $2000 for us to buy kitchen and bedding supplies to take down with us. It is a true wake up call when you see someone crying tears of joy over bed sheets. It was truly a blessing to meet the people and hear their stories. I too have noticed not only the gross oversight of media attention to the MS coast but also the general decline of urgency to respond as if the crisis is over. I will admit that before I came I had assumed the situation was under control. When I saw Ground zero south of the tracks I would have believed the storm had hit the day before. There is an urgent need for help in your area and I hope and pray that our goverment will step to the challenge. For those of you who choose to stay, I admire your courage and wish you the best of luck I can't immagine having to rebuild my life that way.

I was blessed to be a firefighter that was sent to the lower Mississippi coast to assist in the recovery effort. I worked in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. I was dispatched by FEMA and worked for 55 days and got to know many of the people that lives were affected by Katrina. I know that the people of Mississippi are strong and willing to assist each other in the rebuilding process. Good Luck with the Echo. May God Bless You and the rest of your State during the rebuilding process.

I pray for all of you that either decided to go or stay. The decison is such a difficult one to make. My brother-in-law works for FEMA and was called to go down and help. He was on a plane in one hour! He would call telling us about the buildings and how beautiful it was, and this was a week after Katrina. Deciding to start a new life is such a difficult decision. If you believe in God , there is not a mountain that you can not climb. Just learn from the journey.

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