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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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I exchanged tearful hugs and a goodbye with yet another dear friend and her family this week. Her reasoning for packing up and leaving was understandable. It’s wasn’t so much because of Katrina but her fears of what the aftermath of this storm will bring. I have the same concerns as she does. She loves Bay St. Louis, spent 31 years of her life here and today, in heartbreaking truth, is no further ahead than what she was when her family made the decision to move here to build their future of dreams. I can’t argue that point, I am in the same boat as her family and hundreds of others.

Cindy was very upset and her words nearly broke my heart in two. She told me she "doesn’t have another 31 years left to try again…and has never felt like she was really a part of Bay St. Louis, even though she had raised three children here. It’s not about families, values and building strong communities and homes for hard-working families and their children. It’s about historical buildings; artwork and politics.”

She told me she doesn’t want to live in a transitional trailer park plan being hatched by FEMA, a point I agree on whole heartedly. They will only be bought up by some big developer down the line who will build expensive homes or condos on them that neither she nor I would ever be able to afford.
Then came her most dreaded words of all: "We could possibly be doing this all over again with the next hurricane season." Emotionally and mentally she did not want to put her babies through this again. Her words sent chills down my spine.

I have been playing her thoughts over and over in my mind for the past two days. As for another hurricane, I just won’t let my mind go there right now. I am trying to bounce back from this one at the moment. I always admired the beautiful arts, the historic buildings always mesmerized me with their beauty and rich heritage, as much probably as the thousands of tourists who bustled through our city each year. As for FEMA transitional trailer parks, well that just happens to be a quick fix and not a long term solution that will not take care of all different income families in our recovery and rebuilding efforts.

As for the politics, I loved it -- maybe too much at times. The mayor hasn’t forgiven my husband and me for the voting for a man who was running against him in the last election and has made no secret of his disappointment about it. We didn’t stop loving the guy or the city; we just liked the future platform of what Danny had to offer. His plans were similar to those my dear friend Cindy had mentioned. Families and communities should be a priority and Danny had a huge problem with full time law enforcement officers making less than kids working at the Sonic drive-in restaurant, with all due respect to those hard working teens as well as any city employee for that matter. I just happen to agree with Danny on those specific issues. City employees are the backbone of a city. Without them the streets are filthy, crime is high, safety is at risk and the city is not a beautiful appealing historical landmark any longer. They should at least earn decent wages that go along with the “economy and times.” It didn’t mean we stopped loving our city and my husband would stop priding himself in his profession and his commitment to the citizens he protected and served.

Before somebody assumes I am tying to take a political stance against the mayor. Wrong thinking and don’t even go there, because I know that the mayor cares about communities and families and all the city employees, he just never could convince the taxpayers and the voters that those specific issues were important too. And as all good mayors do, you go along with what the majority of the taxpayers and the voters wanted. All we can do now is pray Katrina changed that thinking. As much as I love my dear friend Cindy, I know where she was coming from and I hope she will forgive me, the rebuilding of the historical buildings and the arts is a must. That was a part of Bay St. Louis too.

So this is not about the mayor. It’s not about Cindy or the prominent family, me or you; it’s about all of us now, uniting together as a whole. We are in ruins and losing residents left and right and city employees as well. We are facing the biggest challenge of our lives: rebuilding Bay St. Louis and all the lives and buildings and businesses big and small it contained. I want to believe deep down in my heart that no one part of Bay St. Louis is more important than the other. We need to pray together that America hasn’t forgot us and rely on the strength and power of the big guy upstairs and develop plans that will knock the socks off Katrina and leave the rest of America in awe.

As for the politics, let’s pray that went out with the storm surge!

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3 COMMENTS

I lived in Bay Saint Louis for almost nine months -- 1/7/2005 to 8/29/2005. We lived in the Manor House Apartments on DeMontluzin and were building a house on Whispering Pines Drive in Waveland. After Katrina we lived for three weeks with relatives in Donaldsonville, LA. I spent 28 years in the Army, moving all of the US and the world -- Bay Saint Louis was far and away the best place we had ever lived, bar none. However, we will not return. We moved back to Tennessee, got our insurance settlement, and are just sitting around trying to decide where to go. I will likely go to Waveland summer 2006 to stick a For Sale By Owner sign on my lot (with the slab on it). And why will we not return? Because of the financial loss we took on the house slab and because we could not go through this again -- and no one can guarantee me that there will not be another Katrina next year. I'll take the Appalachian mountains with occasional snow and ice.

I want to stay here, I really don't have anywhere to go. My roots go back to north Alabama but that was way too many years ago. My head says this is the place to be if you are a young and energetic person, my heart says it is the time to go, find a place that is not torn apart, find somewhere that is safe. Can anyone tell me what to do?

Nina, no one can tell you what to do; however, I will give you a little of my perspective.

1) Remember there is no place that is completely safe. I have lived in 12 states (and traveled to all 50) and during my stay in each of those the National Guard has been called out for some "disaster" - ice, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. That being said there are many areas that are relatively more "safe" than others, and I encourage you to consider this in making your decisions.

2)There are many places to be if you are young and energetic or older and more relaxed. If you are willing to take a little time and get to know any community you can find kindred soles and enjoyment in your environment. Remember the US is the best place to live in the world, no matter what state you live in, and that you should consider any move an experience to be cherished and not feared. I have found it takes a few years (not weeks or months) to really get settled into a new community, but once in a new place you start really feeling at home.

3) Consider any move for future relavance, such as a 5 hour or less drive is about right to be "close enough" to family to get to them in need, but far enough so that they are not necessarily overwhelming. The nice thing about our country, and technology innovation, is that you can pretty much get a job that you enjoy anywhere in the country. Also, consider that any move you make now does not mean that you are going to stay there forever, one should not feel like you have to make a once only decision ever. Our lives continually evolve and we should be willing to adjust with those changes. I am not saying that it is not good to have roots, but roots are very broad and grow daily as well :)

I don't know if any of this rambling helps, but maybe will give you some perspective on your next phase of living.

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