What is this?

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.

Map of Southeaster United States

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.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

How you can help


Get the latest stories, journal entries and images via RSS subscription.

WAVELAND, Miss. -- Glance at the sturdy beams, ignore the staircase to nowhere, close your eyes and you can almost imagine the Filinas' fine house on St. Joseph's Avenue, within earshot of the gulf waters.

The thick timber skeleton still frames the ground floor, which was used for parking. Above were two more levels that Jeff and Heather had called home since 2001, when they finished building it themselves.


Jeff and Heather Filinas intend to rebuild their Waveland home, which was largely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. (John Brecher / MSNBC.com)

Although Katrina sliced off the living quarters like a giant cigar cutter, they have cleared the debris and are ready to build again.

But more than 70 days after the storm, the Filinas have so far been unable to get a permit, as the city of Waveland has wrestled with setting standards for new construction in vulnerable flood zones.

It's a fate they shared with others seeking to resume their lives south of the railroad tracks, the area worst hit by the hurricane and the terrible storm surge it pushed ashore.

Their inability to begin the long process of rebuilding stung even more in contrast to the situation for residents of nearby Bay St. Louis, which has already started issuing permits for new house construction in areas devastated by Katrina.

Now, Waveland is ready to follow suit. Mayor Tommy Longo told MSNBC on Thursday that he will ask the City Council to approve new codes at next week’s board meeting.

How high is high enough?

The quandary facing Waveland -- along with every other coastal community in southern Mississippi -- was determining how high above sea level buildings must be built in the wake of Katrina.

The regulations affect qualification for the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by FEMA.

The Filinas built their home at a higher elevation than required by Waveland in 2000; the living quarters were 18.4 feet above sea level, while the city standard was the FEMA-set Base Flood Elevation -- around 13 feet in their case -- plus 2 feet.

Because the frame of Filinas' house is intact, they would like to rebuild at the same height. But without guidance from the city, they've had no idea if that will be allowed. "We don't know," Heather said. "We don't know what we can do here."

The couple's biggest complaint was what they saw as foot-dragging by the Waveland administration. Jeff attended the council meetings, but could not get a straight answer.

"It's the disorganization," pipes up Heather. "Nobody seems to know anything."

Waveland proposal

Longo sympathizes with residents’ frustration, but says the city needed to assess the impact of Katrina on its coastline region and to figure out what it would take to remain in compliance with FEMA’s insurance program.

After examining reports by experts from Ohio and California, he said that he will ask the council to approve a new standard of the Base Flood Elevation plus 4 feet for new housing, he said. He also is hoping for a waiver from a requirement that the city advertise the new standards for 30 days before issuing permits.

The code is the very same one that Bay St. Louis already adopted after rejecting the first post-Katrina advisory on new standards from FEMA.

Bill Carrigee, the head of building code enforcement for Bay St. Louis, explained that FEMA’s guidelines would have raised the elevation for homes across the city, not only in the flood zones.

He believes that FEMA relied too much on the Katrina data; the advice, if implemented, would have changed the entire character of the city, leading to the construction of taller buildings that would have been more vulnerable to hurricane wind damage.

“How do I put this kindly; they were out of their damned minds,” he says.

Instead, Carrigee advised that the city adopt a code that requires homes in the flood zones to be built 4 feet above the Base Flood Elevation. Before Katrina, the regulation was Base Flood Elevation, plus 1 foot.
Base Flood Elevation is defined by FEMA as the average depth of the "base flood." Every foot above or below that level decreases or increases the chances of the building being flooded.

For example, if you built your home a foot below the Base Flood Elevation, it means that you would likely have 1 foot of flood water in the case of a “100-year flood,” defined as “the flood elevation that has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded each year.”

Some breathing room

The new ordinances allow residents in Bay St. Louis –- and shortly Waveland -- to begin rebuilding their homes, albeit at a higher cost for those in the vulnerable zones.

In about two years, when FEMA publishes the new Flood Insurance Rate Map, the flood zones will likely be extended and the Base Flood Elevation raised.

Then new houses in Bay St. Louis will have to be built even higher; those constructed now will be in “nonconformity,” which could affect their valuation though they still would be fully covered by flood insurance, Carrigee said.

However, the city will be obliged to monitor the scale of any additional work, such as extensions. If an owner plans reconstruction or renovation worth more than 50 percent of the home's value, he or she will be required to meet any new standards, Carrigee said.

Mayor Eddie Favre believes most residents will tolerate the new codes. "You can't build at the same level as yesterday," he said. "Most will agree with that."

FEMA, for its part, is in the third year of a five-year program to digitize, upgrade and/or restudy every Flood Insurance Rate Map in the United States.

Meantime, the agency seems content with the stricter building codes for now.

FEMA mitigation expert Gregor Blackburn praised the extra 4-foot requirement in the Bay St. Louis code and the proposal in Waveland because it shows the cities recognize that FEMA will likely impose stricter standards when it issues its new map.

He also noted that because insurance premiums in the high-risk zones are based on elevation of the home, structures that are 4 feet above Base Flood Elevation will enjoy a substantial premium reduction.


Email this EMAIL THIS


I feel for the Filinas; I really do. I can't imagine the frustration of trying to rebuild your entire life. However, I've worked for municipal attorneys and I'm surprised to hear that Waveland has made this much progress in getting things together. Granted, that's not saying much, but we all know how fast bureaucracy doesn't move. At least things are going somewhere....I think. Maybe its too easy to say being this far away from MS..... (sigh)

This is not progress. Mayor Longo has known for weeks this could be done and he has been nothing short of inept. Ditto for Aldermen. They have prolonged the misery for many of us. If we stay, I will become the political activist I have never been in my 60+ years and do everything I can and spend everything I can afford to see to it that this group of uncaring nonperformers is out of office.

Is insurance going to cover rebuilding at a higher hight than their original house? My family in La. is having trouble because they are being required to build at a higher height, but insurance won't pay the extra to get it done, because the policy will only pay to get the house back to its original state.

if over 18 ft. is not high enough how high is ..let these folks build back and get on with there lives

gee...you mean Mayor Longo is back from his vacation in Maine???

Pass Christian is issuing building permits. Bay St Louis is issuing building permits...why does Waveland have to be the last one on the block to make a decision? It's difficult enough to sustain the loss of our homes and all our possessions, but please, let us start the process of rebuilding.
There's so many references to "Base Flood Elevation". Plus one foot, plus four feet...all this is added to the "Base Flood Elevation". Will someone tell me what "Base Flood Elevation" actually is - in terms of feet above sea level?
I lived south of the tracks in Waveland prior to Katrina at an elevation of 16' above sea level. How high will I have to raise my new construction to be in compliance?

Why are they rebuilding at all? If we've learned anything from the past few years its that these storms are getting more powerful and frequent. How long are tax-payers nationwide going to be responsible for subsidizing reconstruction on flood-plains? I am sympathetic but these people know whats going to happen next year.

If you seek to build a commercial building, you cannot get financing unless the building is above a certain flood level. No financing-no building means no commercial structures are built where they shouldn't be. Homes should not be built there either. It will happen again. It is time to move to higher ground & let the coastline revert to nature. Why not a huge linear park along all coastlines except at the ports....& rebuild the dunes.

Thank you Ms. Hubbard, I also would like to know what "Base Flood Elevation" is above sea-level. At least with that information we could begin the design phase of construction. Also, I know not all folks would agree, but a properly designed and managed master plan for say the community south of the railroad track would benefit all. Different looking homes of the same quality, finish and detail would bring together the entire community. You do not need to change the streets or anyone's individual lots, just implement a set of covenants and architectural guidelines to guard against the inevitable next door neighbor with the "Pepto Bismal pink mushroom" looking home. A cohesive looking neigborhood is, in my mind, a good neighborhood. I do, however, realize that we need to rebuild ASAP. Possibly, an owners group on each street or block could get together to structure some cohesiveness amongst the homeowner's new house plans.

don in boston, is your home nice and warm and cozy. so was ours...do you feel comfortable that no natural disaster will ever strike you? Wow, let me move in with you! It's been 35 years since a storm like this..whose to say we won't go another 35 or forever, nowhere is safe..remember that before you write

City of Waveland has a meeting Wednesday 11/16 at 6:30 - all residents - attend we need support to get answers!
Note meeting are held first Tuesday and the third Wednesday of each month. (yes, we need them weekly like Bay St Louis) We need to all attend and take control of our city! (remember it is "our" city)

amen to "concerned citizen, Waveland" -

I do not live in Waveland but I do live just outside of Waveland on HWY 90 in Hancock COunty. I am amongst the many frustrated in this flood level fiasco. All down here are caught in a tough spot: start rebuilding now and lose your insurance later or sit in the luxury of your camper trailer and watch your beautiful home rot while a fleet of insurance adjusters contemplates which part of it was wind and what is flood...even if you had BOTH! Anyhow, here is my blurb-- Why can't the FEMA, insurance officials and everyone else use a little logic to see the obvious??? If we are making these decisions now as a preventative for later (which we are despite what "they" all say), than I would love to know what difference it would have made in this storm if any of us would have been built up 4 feet higher or even 10 feet higher. Places that have NEVER flooded got upwards of 15 feet of water-- my property included! I would also like to point out that many houses built in the air on pilings are completely gone! If the point of these modifications is to prevent damage, "they" need to figure our something else. People of Waveland- hang in there. At least you know that your local government will adopt new maps and you will be able to get reasonable flood insurance again. Depending on the decisions made by county officials, I may become your new neighbor!

To DOn...
I agree with you that buildings should not exist in places that flood repeatedly but not everyone who flooded lived on a flood plain or even in a flood zone. In fact, our area typically handles cat 1-3 storms with little damage --even to beach front property. This is why many of us are so angry and frustrated: We had severe flooding in places that do not flood. Also, remember, we pay taxes too and not all of us expect the government to take care of us. There are many of us down here who pay our insurance premiums like everyone else and before you judge also remember that NO ONE is immune to disaster so you better check your policy, you would be surprised at what it doesn't cover.

Thank goodness you have a city government who wants to get moving. Here in Gulfport, we have a mayor and mrs. mayor who want to make everything "architecturally pleasing". That sounds nice...but in who's eyes. Certainly they are not the only two people in the entire city who know what is lovely and isn't! Let's get a move on, Gulfport! We need the tax base to be a wonderful city...afterall, we are (were) the 2nd largest city in Ms. Let's show them the can do spirit! Get a move on it City Council! A proud Gulfport taxpayer

I agree with the post about making sure we all check our own policies. I live 25 miles from the coast in a house built in '49. I can't imagine how it could flood, but if a tree falls on it and rain gets in, some insurance policies call that a flood and wont cover it.

By the way, if Katrina had stayed on its original course, hurricane experts said the storm surge along our Gulf would have been up to 35 feet high. That would have brought the surge through at least two towns south of us, wiping everything off the map. We still have debris piled up from our last two hurricanes.

To Don,
When was the last time we had a disaster of this magnatude? If Boston gets nailed with a tsunami that wipes out the big dig of yours, you would expect someone to help out. Of course they will rebuild. They will continue on and new people will move down there. What has to happen is they need to spend a little more money to make things/places/building safer. If they spent more money on the levees, you may not have hear anything from New Orleans. Because the insurance companies don't want to pay doesn't mean they shouldn't. Time to pony up after years of paying into a policy, it's time to make it work for you. Flood Damage. What happens when your 9 yr old over flows the bath tub? Pipe breaks?

On Monday Dec 5 I will be on NECN cable news in the Northeast talking about what we have organized to help Waveland and Bay St. Louis.....We are GULF COAST REBUILDING FUND, INC. and collectively represent over 100,000 architects, engineers, and contractors worldwide....Just came back from there last week to raise more funds....email me and we'll start a dialog to tell you all the things we are doing....OUR GOAL--$10 million for these two towns....Frank

Comments for this post have been closed.


Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d8349e661c69e2

More Rising from Ruin

Story tips?