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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.

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.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- Christmas came clear and sunny across this hurricane zone, a glorious Gulf Coast day for Katrina’s survivors to draw together in their houses of worship and around their dinner tables to count their blessings.

With the horror of the storm now nearly four months behind them and signs of rebirth all around, it was a day for family and friends, football and feasting. From FEMA trailers to living rooms that never took a drop of water, there were loved ones to hug, gifts to unwrap and stories to share.

At First Missionary Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis, Pastor Alan Jenkins read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Book of Luke to a full house.

When the sermon and music ended, parishioners turned their full attention to the children among them to hand out a mountain of Christmas presents, most of them delivered by a delegation from We Care of Baldwin County, Ala. The sanctuary became a sea of wrapping paper as toddlers and teens alike marveled at gifts from jeans to keyboards.

At Waveland’s Word of Faith Christian Fellowship, members and neighbors shared a low-key noontime Christmas meal of sandwiches and chips. The church had put the word out that all comers were welcome and expected 50 to 100 people, said Gil Gilchrist, a visiting pastor from Sequim, Wash. Gilchrist said a Christmas Eve dinner drew 450.

Led by patriarch C.C., the McDonald family of Bay St. Louis gathered in the kitchen for a blessing before tucking into a meal of ham, turkey, stuffing and green-bean, spinach and pineapple casseroles.

C.C. built the house about 30 years ago for a customer and it later returned to the family when his brother David bought it. Just a block from the beach, and surrounded by destroyed and flooded buildings, the single-story home was almost entirely unscathed by Katrina.

Snippets of how C.C. and his wife, Eve, rode out the storm in the home were matched with recollections from C.C.’s nephew, Andrew McDonald, and his mother, Frances, whose two-story house on Washington Street filled with nearly five feet of water. They were joined for dinner by C.C. and Eve’s daughter Wendy McDonald and your MSNBC crew before taking a walk to the beach in the bright, crisp winter air.

Artist Ellis Anderson received a slingshot as a gag gift, but it became a hit at her Christmas party when nearly everyone in attendance tried out the toy. Click 'play' to see Ellis and her friends shoot a few rounds. (John Brecher / MSNBC.com)

Across town, at the painstakingly restored schoolhouse that Ellis Anderson calls home, a dozen folks gathered to share a big Christmas feast, sip champagne and try out the slingshot that a friend had given Ellis for Christmas –- with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that it might come in handy for the well-known community activist’s dealings with local government.

“They say you know you’re really in the South when you start drinking and shooting things,” someone joked.

But humor and Christmas cheer appeared to be in far greater supply than marksmanship as no one proved able to plunk a pumpkin target at 100 paces.

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"They say you know you're really in the South when you start drinking and shooting things" reminded me of another one we love done here.

"Hey... hold my beer and watch this"

I love my state of Mississippi and it's great to see my brothers and sisters on the coast having a break for the holidays.

My wife is from Pass Christian (me from Purvis) and we were just there this past Monday and Tuesday... we will be back. Can't wait to pop a top on the beach next summer.

now.... have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!folks...cause o6 has to be better than 05 good luck...we think about everyone down there and thank you MSNBC

I grew up in Texas City and Hurricane Carla hit when I was 14. So,the pictures and people in Mississippi are in my thoughts and Prayers everyday. My daughter in laws family live on the westbank of New Orleans and I feel the town is getting to much press, so does she.

Thank you so much for the pictures of survivors enjoying Christmas!

Lots of wonderful people there. Great story.
The photos were great, too. Restores hope.

HEY Bob Buntyn...hold my beer ...and pull my finger...looks like your one of us....oh lord !!!! dis ain't right ....but it's funny ...i don't care who ya are!!!!....love ya man!!

The time for healing is in the year 2006 so enjoy the Season for the TRUE meaning and all the best for you and yours for this holiday. My prayers are always with you.

From a soldier in Kuwait from Pass Christian,MS. Merry Christmas

When you think about what these survivors have been through, what they have lost, and how they have weathered the storm, you find that you cannot personally allow yourself to feel depressed because life no matter how difficult it seems, is still a blessing and a joy. When you can take one step or one day at a time and still find a smile or take a moment for laughter in the midst of turmoil, it lets you know that as long as there is life, there is hope. May God continually bless each and every one of you as we go into this New Year with much faith, peace, and joy.

CC. I'm glad your doing well. I spent a part of a day with a bobcat and a chain saw cleaning your brothers yard, and sent a crew to your house later. You and your wife showed a Kansas boy what Southern hospitality was. We were their to help you but you repeatedly offered us refreshments and a smile. May God bless you and your community.

Thank you so much for the pictures of Bay St Louis. I can't begin to describe the feelings I have of seeing before and after pictures of the town I was born in. It makes me realize how beautiful of a town the Bay actually was. My family settled in the Kiln, Bay and Waveland area many many years ago and even though the majority of us have moved away "The Bay" will always be home. I wish lots of love to family members still down on the coast.

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