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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.

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(Editor's note: This post is from an e-mail Maria Russell sent to her friends and family on Sept. 29. The photos were taken by Maria and her husband, Dave.)

It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast one month ago today. Time sure goes by fast even when you’re NOT having fun.

Life is different now, and that’s an understatement. For the past two weeks, we have been able to park our little truck camper (which gets smaller and smaller by the day) at the Dodge dealership on Highway 90 in Bay St. Louis, thanks to our good friend, John.

Home sweet home

The view is good

We have more space than ever

We are so indebted to him. Here we have electricity, a clean, functional restroom, and even a shower! John is one of those guys who always sees the cup as being half full and makes the best of every situation. Our shower area is no exception. He rigged up a truck bed liner to be a shower stall, and so if you can ignore the constant traffic of the highway just a few feet in the distance, it’s quite private.

Inside view of the shower. Nice and roomy!

Outside view of the shower

The National Guard continues to be a constant presence, which is comforting given that all of the police cars in both Bay St. Louis and Waveland were destroyed by Katrina. Law enforcement from as far away as New York patrol our streets now; I believe they rotate every 12 days or so. A curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. ensures that nighttime is quiet.

There are a couple of huge relief centers set up (thanks to individual church groups) and that’s where we do our “shopping,” though no money exchanges hands of course. We are able to get ice, water and a limited selection of food and toiletries. To everyone’s excitement, the grocery store in Diamondhead (about 5 miles away) reopened recently, so now we can get fresh produce, meat and COLD MILK. These things are like gold now.

A few businesses are open; several gas stations, the equipment rental place, a hardware store and a tire shop to name a few. No banks, though, not even ATMs. Not that it matters. There’s really nowhere to spend money.

I know y’all would chuckle at this one, but sometimes we go to the Salvation Army roach-coach for lunch. The people are ultra nice and the food is hot and filling. They are usually set up at the post office, so you can pick up your mail and have lunch all at once. What a convenience!

We applied for a FEMA trailer, but you can only get those if you have electricity, sewer and water at your site. And to get those takes an act of God … and a case of beer. Dave drove all over creation finding out what the rules and regulations were (the communication between Planning and Zoning/the power company/the water company is a “cluster,” if you know what I mean) and then had to buy a temporary power pole, AND get it installed (that’s where the case of beer comes in.) God bless the crew from the power company from Dodge City, Kansas!

Recent “improvements” include functional traffic lights and postal services. Yesterday I went to the post office for the first time in a month, and THAT was an experience! You have to fill out a slip with your name and address and then get in line (a very l-o-n-g line) and wait for your address to be called. Watching the event reminded me of “American Idol.” Some people received a huge stack of mail. Others were told that their mail was in the process of being delivered to their mailbox (a “house” is not necessarily required; all you need is a mailbox) but time of actual receipt was uncertain. And others just flat out didn’t have any mail. I felt privileged; we received a BIG BOX (a cover for the truck dashboard that we had ordered well before the storm.)

Dave spends his days at our slab (I can’t exactly call it “the house” anymore), shoveling the muck and uncovering stuff, some of which is ours, and the rest, who knows? He has recovered quite a few of his Craftsman tools, which are currently soaking in a bucket. After he cleans them up he’s going to get brand, spanking new replacements at Sears (ah, the beauty of lifetime warranties!) I wonder if the muck will ever disappear.



Our street is covered by at least 8 inches of the stuff. Just when it all dried out, Hurricane Rita came on the scene. So, last weekend, we evacuated again. There’s so much debris everywhere, and in the parking lot where we’re camped, there’s lot of sheet metal and broken glass. We didn’t feel much like being caught in a human meat grinder.

The evacuation process is easier now since we don’t have many possessions. And I’m not really griping; we just have a VERY simple existence these days. We had already launched our little Whaler, which was tied to the dock, so we didn’t have to trailer that around. It was simply a matter of putting the camper back on the truck and head out of town.  This time we drove east to Gulf Breeze (near Pensacola), where our good friends Patti and Sam live. Being in an honest-to-goodness house again was such a treat! Having plenty of walking-around space, comfy furniture to lounge in, and having a washer and dryer at my disposal made me feel like we had won the lottery! Patti and Sam are the ultimate hosts; we wanted for absolutely nothing and every meal made us feel gluttonous. But that can be a good thing, right?

I am volunteering for the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce at the Small Business Assistance Center that was set up last week. Counselors from the Small Business Administration and the University of Mississippi’s Small Business Development Center help business owners complete and file their applications for loans. I am in awe of the people that have come through the doors.  Katrina has hit these people with a double whammy; they lost their homes AND their businesses.  But given their attitude, you would hardly know it. They sit and wait patiently (sometimes for more than two hours) for the next available counselor. No one complains. And when they’ve been seen and they’re about to leave, many of them stop at the desk and sincerely thank us for all our help.  They are all so grateful.

For the first time since the storm, Dave and I took a drive along the beach yesterday. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would not believe the devastation! ALL of the homes have been reduced to a pile of rubble. It’s impossible that anyone could have survived. Huge trees are uprooted and items of clothing are hanging in the branches, as though the entire area was tee-peed at Halloween. It’s so eerie. I commented to Dave that this is the first time I’ve ever driven along the beach and NOT looked at the water.



Piles of debris are everywhere, but thankfully truckloads are being taken away daily. I hesitate to say that life is getting back to normal, but really, it’s not that bad. Certainly we are tired of “roughing it,” and we are soon approaching a point where we will reach a crossroads; should we stay here in Bay St. Louis and live in a trailer (assuming we get one) on our slab? Or should we go to one of the many places we’ve been offered? Right now we can only think 24 hours in advance, as making long-range plans is not possible. But for right now (today), we are OK.

Since we’re busy doing other things, we don’t spend much time on the computer, so if you haven’t received a response to an e-mail you sent, please don’t be offended. Just know that we appreciate all your thoughts, concern, and prayers. We will continue to keep you posted as best we can.

“Camp on!” is the message that Bay St. Louis’ Champion Dodge now flashes

MAIN PAGE NEXT POST Watching the trailers roll by

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