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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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WAVELAND, Miss. -- It’s garbage; lots of it, about 7.4 million cubic yards, about the size of 74 football fields, each piled 50 foot high, or maybe a medium-sized densely packed town elsewhere in the United States.

In Hancock County, it’s the estimate of the amount of debris that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to haul out of here over the next year.


A giant backhoe separates the different categories of debris at the Henley landfill in Hancock County. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

But it’s not just garbage, rubbish, debris; it’s walls, bricks, ceilings, trees, gates, doors, photo albums, birth certificates, refrigerators, wedding videos, computers, books, pots, cups, towels, keys, bottles of wine, baseball card collections, bikes, sofas, tables, beds, closets, lampshades, paintings, CDs, sunglasses, shoes, board games, calendars, diaries, rugs, mattresses, Sponge Bob night-lights and soft toys.

It’s the stuff of life that lies crumpled on the streets of Bay St. Louis, Waveland and other Hancock County communities.

Managing expectations

Every day in what he describes as the “war room” in a local hotel, Rusty Rutherford of the Army Corps of Engineers figures out what to do with it all, where the debris-removal contractor should go next, what good news he can offer the weary residents.


It’s a job that involves detailed maps, military-style planning, GPS data, a sympathetic ear and the patience of Job.

Rutherford spends much of his time at meetings with other federal officials, state officials, county officials, city officials and hundreds of residents, answering questions, explaining the process.

“A lot of it is managing expectations,” he says.

Process is important for Corps officials, and it’s what residents find tedious.

Rusty Rutherford (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

For the past two months, the Corps has been clearing “right of ways” across the county, in other words roadways, streets, sidewalks, curbs.

To date, it has removed about 1.49 million cubic yards of debris in Hancock County, and 350,854 cubic yards in Bay St. Louis alone.

While that cleanup continues, the next step will be entering properties to haul away demolished homes, garages, dangerously leaning trees.

But it’s not that simple; there’s paperwork.

Ashbritt Environmental, the Corps’ contractor, can't legally enter properties until owners give written permission for Right of Entry (ROEs).

The documents must be verified by the county or cities, local officials must confirm the damage description, environmental and health hazards must be scrutinized, property lines must be triple-checked, and then, as soon as a cluster of remnant dwellings in one sector is approved, demolition can begin.

Rutherford is reluctant to estimate how long it will take to clear all the junk away. “We’re just at the beginning process on the right of entries,” he says. “I don’t want to give a timeline, because I could be wrong.” When pressed, he guesses the work will take up to a year.

Keeping it clean

The Corps of Engineers, a civilian unit of the U.S. Army, is the largest engineering organization in the world. With more than 1,200 members in Mississippi alone, it was appointed by FEMA to clean up after the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

In the vanguard are quality assurance representatives, who oversee the cleanup by contractors. They check for environmental waste, hazardous material, make sure that white goods (refrigerators, stoves, etc) are separated, that the giant claws of the heavy equipment don't cause any unintended damage.
Later, at the vast garbage dumps, they determine the amount of debris in each truck to be sure the contractor is fulfilling its obligation.

051104_garbage_02 Quality Assurance Representatives monitor incoming debris at the Hardy landfill near Bay St. Louis. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

This week on Waveland’s Lafitte Street, once a well-appointed stretch near the beach, quality assurance representative Allen Hale watched as a contractor gathered a mangled mess of debris into a double-truck with a maximum load of 107 cubic yards. Then he helped the contractor’s “spotter” to make sure that the white goods were separated and watched for evidence of asbestos.

Rutherford admits that not every dangerous substance is spotted, even after a second separation at the dump site. “We try to identify asbestos, but you can see how commingled it is,” he says, pointing to the mountain of debris. “When we spot it, we take it out.”

It’s work that’s time-consuming and detailed – and often frustrating to residents who want to resume their lives.


A contractor in a knuckle-boom loader hauls debris outside a house on Lafitte Street, Waveland. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

Rutherford says the remainder of the work in Hancock County will take up to a year.
Meantime, Rutherford leaves Monday, having completing his 60-day volunteer service, although he expects to rotate through again. His successor Melody Thompson shadowed him this week, preparing to take the reins.

Overall, he believes the Corps has been successful in its mission. “I think we’re doing a great job, we’re doing it very efficiently,” he says.

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Long live people like you

It breaks my heart to see and hear of all the damage done to my home town. I was born & raised in Bay St. Louis, went to school at St. Joseph's Academy. Went thru the hurricane in 1947 and witnessed some of the power of wind and water surge. All you survivors are in my prayers.

Mind numbing, how else can you describe the desolation? Such a small percentage of the overall destruction, but so many pieces of so many lives.

God bless people who can help. We need more people that care about the situation at hand. I pray for all the survivors especially the little kids they just don't understand why they can't go home.

This sounds overwhelming! I do hope that someone is in charge of the LOST items (birth certificates, photo albums); when recovered are held safely held aside in hopes that they end up back in their original owner's hands.

thanks to these people and also to those of you from far away who do appreciate the destruction here. When I came back from evacuation, even though I had been in hurricanes including Camille, I was still stunned to see what had transpired. Unfortunately also, our local officials did well in the immediate aftermath but are now essentially paralzyed; we are looking at a long winter of discomfort and discontent.

Being a paper-pusher myself, I can appreciate what the Corps of Engineers needs to do before debris is moved. I can also appreciate and empathize with the homeowners who want nothing more than to move on with life and get out of a holding pattern! Thank you to the Corps for doing this dirty work of removing traces of previous life - and the toxins we left behind.

30 tenants and myself had been evicted out of our homes in order to make space for Katrina victims.The landlord in our apartment complex had started renovations and found it more lucrative to remodel and furnish the units just to rent them out to horrendous prices to hurricane victims.
Shortly after that hurricane Rita made landfall in Lake Charles, Louisiana and destryoed most of the city
At this point most landlords in the larger complexes are still evicting thousands of people out of their homes just to remodel and rent out to Katrina victims because the "funds "are available,
Rita victims are being treated like 2nd class citizens because the funds are not there
I had to leave my home and am in a different state staying with friends, but yet most places I ask for assitance tell me that the money is there for Katrina victims, but not for hurricane Rita victims........Don't misunderstand me .......I am sad to see that so many people in New Orleans have lost their homes, but what about the rest of us?????????

What I hope and pray is that the City officals in Waveland make the proper decisions and choices as to the zoning and building permits so the city comes back "better" not just the same than it was. I owned a home on Waveland Ave. (now scheduled for demolision) and our neighborhood had 7 deaths due to drowning. I am waiting to see what the neighborhood does before making a decision to rebuild or move away for good. So far it doesn't look good. Low income housing across the street which were two story and had water on Both floors are tarping the roofs with the appearance of repair instead of rebuilding. I don't think I want to sink alot of money into that kind of neighborhood. The city is missing a great opportunity if it does not make hard zoning & building laws.

It is time someone focused on Mississippi. There has been so much focus on New Orleans by the media that people really don't understand what has happened in our beautiful state. Thank you.

I look around my home and ask myself, "How much of this stuff do I really need?" And I realize that if you take it all away, life goes on.

To all the mississippi people i want to extend my prayers to all that they went through. I was a volunteer for American Red Cross for 3 weeks. I was sent back to florida for hurricane wilma to board up and take care of my home. I will never forget the people that i had met and talked to,I would of never imagined that the people of mississippi were so strong after such disaster. (hats off to all of you strong people)I want to come back and continue to help so bad. It hurts every day that i am not there. I WISH ALL OF YOU THE VERY BEST PLEASE KEEP YOUR CHINS UP EVERY THING WILL BE GOOD

We lost everything when our house burned two years ago. When this storm hit we had 15 feet of water pushed into our neighborhood where we were in the process of rebuilding the house that burned. What the fire didn't get the water did. One thing that I had heard and now I totally agree - if you are going to lose your posessions it is better to see them go up in smoke than to lie on the ground in a soggy, smelly heap. Right in the middle of our property was our life in ashes but yet the property around us was still beautiful. Now it is washed away or brown and dead looking. But we are going to rebuild again! Together we will hold on ------

I was living in Bay St. Louis and building a house on whispering Pines Drive in Waveland. Now living in East Tennessee and not returning. This article says the Corps needs Right of Entry forms from homeowners in Waveland -- does anyone know how we get these forms and get them to the Corps? Thanks.

Joe you need to contact your local City Hall officals for the forms and they will tell you where to mail them.

i have friends there who lost everything. i can only pray they get back on there feet soon. i told them that at least they still have each other.

I don't really know anyone that lived in any of the area that Hrricane Katrina hit but I want to say that my heart goes out to anyone that lost everything or someone. I believe that everyone is strong and with the support of friends and family you will all be ok.

I was fortunate enough to have visited Bay St. Louis last year for the first time. It was such a beautiful spot on the coast and I fell in love with the entire costal area, including Waveland, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pass Christian and Ocean Springs. My husband was searching for employment in the Pascagoula area so that we could relocate to the coast. I still want to live on the coast, hurricanes or not. God bless and keep each and every one of you that have suffered a lose in the hurricane.

I was down there to help my father, and have to say that the Corps of Engineers was one of the few Federal agencies that was actually out there in the muck getting the job done. FEMA and the SBA were still lining people up and taking applications, but more than six weeks after the storm, couldn't even tell people what was going on with their applications or when they could expect to hear anything. It was heartening to see the men and women in the red shirts from the Corps out their sweating in the heat and getting the debris cleared and the roadways passable. The local officials also were working hard despite their own losses. God bless to all.

I had the privilage to work at Camp Coast Care in Long Beach, MS for a week, helping to clear debris from people's properties. I am haunted still by the devastation and loss I saw. There is still an insurmountable amount of work to do! These folks need help - and there is something that every person can do to help! Clearing debris, donating food and clothing, lending an ear, helping to rebuild, Drs. donating their medical skills, etc. I admire the strength, perserverance and hope these wonderful people have. God bless them and watch over them. I look forward to returning!

God bless all the people affected in this region. Our 1st ever camping trip was to Buccaneer State Park. We enjoyed all of our outings there. Hope to be back someday soon camping there. Keep the faith!


At what point do you decide not to have so much infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. Another Cat4 next year?...in two more years? We humans tend to forget that measuring storms is a relatively new thing and for all we know these kinds of storms will become more prevalent and not just a fluke storm every 50 or 100 years.

And while I am compassionate and empathetic to the humanity I am also realistic and understand this country can ill afford to rebuild city after city, year after year, just so "some" can have a view of the ocean from their house. It's not fair that FEMA has to subsidise this and future storms at taxpayor expense. When do you say "Do not build a city here"?...maybe just 5 more miles inland would be better. Is that so bad? You choose to live staring at the sea waiting for that one fatefull day and then when it comes scream from high heaven for help. There are better ways to live with the ocean. Bettter for us all...is there no guilt or shame for not buying flood insurance? is there no guilt or shame in not leaving? you took a chance and you lost....when I do that my Government doesn't come running to save me from myself. In the future you should get no assistance, you are all well aware of what WILL happen again.

This is to address what Jimmy Coarn had to say. Yes, I hear what you say where rebuilding is concerned in a place that will most likely be hit again someday, but what about all of those other places around the country that flood, have earthquakes, tornados, landslides, fires, avalanches, or volcanoes? Shall we tell Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, New York, Kansas City, Austin, Seatle, Denver, etc, that they must relocate? I guess you get the picture now. Aren't we all taking a gamble?

As for no flood insurance......These people were told they didn't need it, because they lived in a NO FLOOD ZONE. Not leaving? Who are you speaking to? New Orleans, or where the storm really hit which was the Mississippi coast (Hancock county was ground zero.)? Those from New Orleans I suppose should ask their state and local leaders about evactuaions along with MANY other things. Most of the people on the coast did leave. For those who did not, (MS) it was a combination of things. Nothing worse than Camille had existed, so many retreated to the No flood Zones, where it was thought to be safer. Also, I speak from my experience, evactuations were a nightmare. "Go west. No, don't go west." East and north the same. Virtually no shelters were announced in advance. Saturday night prior to the storm the local coast station was showing a sporting event with the storm coordinates in the corner and breaking in rarely. Also, lest you forget that the Friday morning prior to Katrina it was still going to Florida? When they say they predicted this girl correctly, I like to know what hour in advance they are referring to. Katrina turned in the coast's direction quickly from Florida, and got worse even faster. Storm surge? If we sat 18ft above sea level, and we were told to expect 20 ft, then why do we not have a house left at all? I guess since you seem to have all of the answers you may know that too.

I hope that should you suffer the misfortune of an extreme disaster like this, you will have many on your side to help you recover too. I don't think it would go over well to move all the cities and towns that are sitting ducks for the numerouse disasters our unique landscape permits, but I would stress stronger building codes, and higher homes for the future rebuilding to help prevent damage due to minor storms in any area around our country that floods.

Jane has a good point. The Miss. coast got the brunt of the storm surge. They got their houses destroyed from a wall of water and/or 140 mph+ winds. New Orleans got hammered by the federal government unwillingness to put money and time into those levees. How many law suites are going to show up in court about the levees, who knows. The people of Mississippi are going to have to battle for anything and everything they can get. It should be the mission of every American to go to the gulf coast with a group and help out within the next 1-3 yrs. Just go for 3 days, a week, what ever. People with skills will be needed once the grunt work is finished. The people there are great. Enjoy them while your there.

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