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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.

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.

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In the three months since a monstrous storm surge driven by Hurricane Katrina smashed into the coastal Mississippi communities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, the effort of clean-up and rebuilding has been by every measure monumental: Nearly 2 million cubic yards of debris has been removed, thousands of trailers and $118 million worth of FEMA assistance distributed. Nearly half a million free meals have been served.

And yet, in these tiny Gulf Coast towns, the painful reality is that what remains to be done is even more monumental. The community is far from what it long considered normal life.

In its ongoing coverage of the struggle to rebuild the neighboring cities, MSNBC.com is telling a story that is playing out in many variations along the hurricane-stricken coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. One piece at a time, these individuals, businesses and institutions are tackling dilemmas that exist on an epic scale.

Read about the situation when MSNBC.com reporters first visited the towns in October.

Among the encouraging signs seen in November was the reopening of Bay-Waveland public schools — after they were gutted and cobbled back together from ruin. Having the kids back on track was a relief for many people and a step towards normalcy.

But the fact that only 39 percent of the students returned was also a sobering reminder that a large portion of the population, which was about 15,000 before the storm, are still living in the areas where they evacuated. And it was a reminder that many may not return.

Another landmark in recovery was the bittersweet departure of the Rainbow people, and their closure of the New Waveland Café, emblematic of the gradual closing of soup kitchens, food distribution points and shelters, and the reemergence of regular businesses.

Some businesses, like Dan Marine’s furniture business, promised to generate a little cash flow even though major repairs remained unfinished. Others, like the Just Duit gift shop reopened not so much because they expect big business, but because they hope to encourage others to do the same.

Redevelopment battle taking shape

So much of the community was destroyed, that the overall shape of the future Bay St. Louis-Waveland is an open question. Activists who want to preserve the historic charm and small-town atmosphere beat back an effort to relax building codes to make way for large developers in November, but that battle clearly is far from over.

Another important question is the future of casinos in this community. Before the storm destroyed it, Casino Magic employed some 1,200 people here, and was the biggest single contributor of tax revenues. Jobs and revenues are both in short supply now, but the idea of expanding the gambling industry is anathema to many residents.

The future character of the community will depend heavily on how many former residents can afford to rebuild here -- and that depends on resolution of the multibillion dollar insurance debate. Insurers are unanimously refusing to pay for water damage from Katrina. which they argue would have to be covered by flood insurance. But many residents did not carry flood insurance because they didn't think they needed it. Now, along with some politicians, they believe the damage should be compensated as wind damage, since Hurricane Katrina created the huge swell of water.

In the short run, Bay St. Louis and Waveland residents, like other Americans, are doing what they can to celebrate the holiday season. Not long after plates were scraped at public Thanksgiving feasts, volunteers turned their attention to Christmas—and helping residents cobble together the comfort of holiday ritual even in the lingering chaos.

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64 COMMENTS

Two million cubic yards of debris?? How big is that?? My mind can't even begin to visualize the enormity of the cleanup. NBC keep on with this reporting. We cannot allow the American public to fall back on it's short-sighted memory. So many responses have blamed the Bush government, politics in general, and the people who have suffered losses for not going out and getting a job. Get real. Where are the jobs when nothing is left. I'm not saying we owe everyone everything, but there has to be some way to help people who have a $100,000 mortgage or larger with nothing to show for it but a bare (debris, not counted) piece of land. We give and give to other countries, so it's time to give to our own citizens. Our current government has not met it's obligations. Hopefully we will have a longer memory this time. I know I will.

To all the survivors, you are in my prayers daily, and i hope that somehow you have peace in the holiday season, as for the "multi-billion $ ins. debate, there should not be one. All the damage was from a HURRICANE. 100% WIND DRIVEN. These thousands of people, for many years paid (probably high to begin with, due to where they live) insurance. For these insurance companies to welch on their OBLIGATION, to pay these people the proper amounts to rebuild. THIS WAS NOT A FLOOD!!!!!!!!!!! P A Y T H E S E P E O P L E!!!!!

Thank you for telling the story of towns other than New Orleans. I volunteered for hurricane Rita relief. You can multiply this cost and this loss by hundreds if you count up all of the small towns damaged not only by Katrina but also by Rita. Unfortunatly Katrina is still receiving most of the publicity and funding. How about Hurricane Rita. How about those folks in Texas too.

Thanks to all who don't even live in our area! I live in Pensacola, FL. We survived hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, We are still trying to "fix" things, and we hope to finish before Christmas of 2005! Please be patient of us "hurricane left-overs" as we work dillegently work to try to repair what is "re-pairable" of what we are left with...along with trying to earn a living. Please remember that we should not be forgotten......

I have an interesting idea to solving the rebuilding issue, at least in terms of housing. You open a factory in town for modular buildings (panelized or modular construction, not trailers), and employ the people of the town in the factory. The collectively work to produce new buildings for the town, and the construction quality stays high because it is controlled not by FEMA or shitty contractors, but by the people who are invested in the city. Then, after the rebuilding process is over, you have an economic engine to provide money and jobs for the town, by continuing to build these pre-fabricated buildings and export them to surrounding areas or other parts of the country. You could even expand that to some other building products, like building doors or something that is not location-dependent. I'm in architecture school, and if you look at the 2005 Solar Decathlon that was sponsored by the Dept of Energy this year, many of the tools for rebuilding in a way that is beneficial in the long term for the area's residents can be found. This is an opportunity to improve the situation, not simply rebuild quickly without factoring in the long term impact.

There are plenty of jobs here on the Mississippi Coast. The problem is that people can sit back and get money from FEMA and other sources without have to work for it. Business's are hurting for workers. It is so bad that Burger King is offering a signon bonus to get people to work and no one is taking advanage of it

What a great idea, Andrew.
I believe more use of modular/prefab housing is long overdue, there are some great examples of what is currently available on the web.
Your project would really help not only now, locally, but in disasters in the future, as this could be up and running to supply others.
My house in Waveland was flooded up to 10 feet, but can be rebuilt, am working on that now.
There are so many smart people out there with great ideas, keep them coming

Obviously, these people would not have had water in their homes had it not been for Hurricane Katrina. The insurance companies gladly took their premiums for years without paying out, now they are refusing to help these people due to small print in the contracts. Something needs to be done to protect people from the unfairness of these regulations. Where is the help promised by President Bush in the after math of the storm?

Ken: I've heard of that signing bonus - you only get it if you agree to work for Burger King for a year. Working in fast food is not a fun job, even if it is a bit of money. Trust me, I've done it. It's quite possibly some of the hardest work our society, and certainly some of the most thankless. Many people who are looking for jobs are looking to move up from what they may have been working at before the huricane. This may mean that you have to wait longer for your burger, but if the people who take the initiative to get jobs and improve their socioeconomic standing, I say good on them.

Great post by Ken! You are exactly right. Several hotels were recently asked how many hurricane victims that were staying in these hotels had gone to hotel management and asked for employment, and the response from each hotel was the same ... NONE. Many of these people are now just waiting for a check. I mean come on. What happened to having insurance on your property? Now, we the taxpayers are supposed to take care of them? Are we as a nation going to start handling every natural disaster large and small like this? Why just the big ones? You better believe if this happens in my town, then I expect the same benefits. There is a reason that many people didn't live in New Orleans --- it's called below sea level! Think about it.

Also, the great Mayor of N.O. who seems to be so anti George W. Bush, is laying off city workers. If there is so much clean up left to be done, why would he start laying off people??? Just something else to blame on someone else.

I agree with Ken..that now their are plenty of work to be had...yet, I believe those that complained before Katrina that they cant find work..are gonna milk FEMA for every dime...then pick up on the moaning and groaning that they can't find work....Its a shame..that their are many honest and moral people trying to make good of a bad situation..only to have the scammers and lazy beggers hurting the true effort of Many....I hope FEMA set aside a few million to 'research and prosecute' the many that are scamming the Government.

Please try to let the people of our country know that Katrina's winds have not subsided. I was there w/ a disaster relief team 4 weeks ago and there is a long horribly difficult road ahead. ..Problem...the rest of the US thinks it is over and all is well. Upon returning to CA we tried to get news coverage of the ongoing disaster and were blatantly shut down w/"old news'..not intereted...'Katinia is over'... IT IS NOT OVER...The nightmares continue and I challenge anyone who thinks differstly to go there and volunteer to help for a couple weeks and then...come back and say the disaster is over. THe disaster is not over...it is ongoing.
Plese if you believe in anything...help....They need hands and $ and organization and LOVE.
Please help...Get the word out...Katrina's winds are still devistating out county.

Mr. Rich, I really don't think you have a clue! It's not an issue of people NOT having insurance, it's the insurance companies trying to find a way out of PAYING. Think about it - if it weren't for the HURRICANE there wouldn't have been FLOODING. The water didn't rise and submerge without the wind forces from the hurricane. This just reinforces my opinion of the insurance industry being a monopoly. How can individuals possibly fight these huge corporations and expect to win? There may be a few out of the many many displaced people that are sitting back awaiting government help but for the most part the people of the coast are doing whatever they can to accept the facts and move on. Mr. Rich, have you ever been to the Mississippi Coast? Have you ever experienced such devastation? Have you ever heard that if an employer (the New Orleans City Government) looses their stream of income (tourism)they have no choice but to lay off it's workers? Would you work for free? Have you ever heard of the saying "Think before you speak"? God bless and keep those that lost so much on the coast due to the hurricane(s); I've been keeping you all in my prayers.

I can't help but wonder about these people who are so quick to judge how others handle life-altering changes. How can anyone judge the survivors of this devastating situation so harshly? You want them to work for Burger King making minimum wage while they try to fight with insurance companies, rebuild their homes and keep their families from falling apart? You want to judge them for the depression they must be going through, especially this time of year when the focus is usually on family and home, while their families are scattered all over this nation and their homes aren't even worth using for kindling to keep warm? If Burger King wants to offer an incentive to workers tell them to take some of the billions of dollars we've paid them over the years and build the new employee a home so that they can keep their family safe in a warm environment while they go flip burgers for minimum wage. Apparently the people making these horrible comments regarding the survivors of the hurricanes have never owned homes or raised families. If you want to judge someone then judge the insurance companies who collected money from these people for decades under false claims of protecting them or the federal government that their taxes support who now is falling desperate short of their responsibilities to these same tax payers. People who work their whole lives to own homes pay taxes, far more than those who obviously don't know what homeownership is. People who raise families have large out of pocket expenses to support these families, unlike those who don't know what supporting a family requires. Judge those in the position to help and fail, not those who are fortunate to survive and are only asking that they receive the services they paid for all these years.

Andrew has a great idea. Companies like Crown Zelerbach, Ranyour,Weyerhauser, Georgia Pacific to name a few can or should jump on this like white on rice. Great for business and sure as hell would help the employment position. SBA should also get involved.
This would also take care of the timber land that was destroyed and may go to waste.How many million bdft is on the ground and not harvetsed yet?
They do make portable lumber mills if the main mills can not handle the input. More employment for the local people. Southern Yellow and Long leaf pines are strong trees for construction and house building.
Modular homes are also much stronger than the common stick built or platform construction.It is time for the local citizens to start the ball rolling and address these issues with their local and federal officials.
REMEMBER THE SQUEAKY WHEEL GETS THE MOST GREASE!!!!!

I have written this before, but it needs repeating. I had a home on Lafitte Dr in Waveland, 700 ft from the beach, 13.5 ft above sea level. My home is now a stripped slab. Audubon Insurance Group (AIG) was my Mississippi Wind and Hail policy insurer. I had NO flood insurance. AIG has determined that a tornado ripped through Waveland, south of the tracks, PRIOR to the surge. AIG paid my claim in full due to WIND damage PRIOR to the surge. I hope this helps every person in Waveland and Bay St. Louis. I have told my story to Marty Wolk, MSNBC writter. God Bless you all.

I would like to echo JD's comments. My mother had a house on Cedar Point in BSL. State Farm's field engineer called to verify its location and said, in his opinion, only a tornado prior to the hurricane could have caused the devastation. Unfortunately, that was a month ago and she is still waiting for State Farm to pay her claim. This area was in the eyewall of the hurricane. Only someone trying to avoid paying claims would say the damage was from water, not wind.

Flood insurance is the most inexpensive homeowners or renters insurance you can buy. Not having it is like not having life insurance. It is a personal choice if you are not in the 100 year flood plan. Don't expect to get paid for coverage you don't have. My son went to work in Louisiana for several weeks. The people there wouldn't work. They were collecting from FEMA. But it is very sad to see only slabs where homes used to be. I have only one question. Are the people in Hotels ex home owners or apartment renters? The problem to be addressed is how do you get everyone back to work and in proper housing?

Not an easy answer much easier to let someone else take care of it.

Andrew from Ithaca,NY so far is the only one with the best idea, I am sorry for the ones dealing with insurance but I lived thru Andrew and let me tell you it took 6 months before any help and I am not trying to side with the insurance companies but they got burned, alot of people claiming something that was not theirs.And also I know of a lot people still trying to get their insurance money. I lost my home to Charlie in 2004, and we are not in a home yet, but one thing I will tell you is that if you don't get to working and rebuilding your own community you will never get out of that devasted feeling. and people are complaining about working for Burger King - well when you know that more than 70% of the population in the worst devasted area was on wellfare to begin with what do you expect and I did not include in that percentage the elderly or sick or handicap. I don't know it just sad every one all ways so fast to blame some one or something else. i wonder what people did when they didn't have FEMA or insurance companies?

Merry Christmas to all...
You are in my Prayers everyday..the little one...the elderly....the young and the old...you are all God's children and He will never leave or forsake you...
Keep the Faith..God will not give you more than you will ever be able to handle...
I wish only for all to have a happy healthy..and Blessed Holiday..with Family and Friends...
not wind and rain...Had enough of that this year...
just love and laugh...and let the laughter heal your hearts and families...
God Bless you Everyone..

I can't believe that folks are rebuilding there along the coast. I am astounded that they can even borrow money to do so.

The National Hurricane Center says that we are in for at least ten more years of increased hurricane activity, and from what I have seen, most other scientists who believe in global warming think it will be a big problem for a much longer period of time.

Look at last year, look at this year, do you really want to stay anywhere near Mobile Bay? Do you really want to be on the Gulf Coast at all?

I think at this point it has become a nice place to visit where no sensible person would want to live. I certainly do not want to keep subsidizing them to live there, knowing the liklihood that its just going to get trashed again sometime in the next few years.

Head inland folks. Jackson is about as close to the beach as you really want to be. I did, I left Galveston for Ohio with my family. I was really glad to be feeling sorry for someone else instead of worrying about my own.

Do you know that hundreds of Fema trailers are sitting on Route 32 in Robertsdale Al right now. People need a place to live and these trailers sit idle.. We live in the US. Please help our own citizens. Help the shrimpers in Bayou La Batre get their boats back in the water so they can produce. Fema is a joke.

hey what's wrong with working at B.K. or anywhere that doesn't pay a 5 figure salary? People who have say on their sorry butts.having babies for another check,will not work.They didn't own a home anyway, Gov. paid rent,living in hotels is like a palace to them. those who OWNED homes are the ones to be helped. not the worthless people who are mad that Gov.( ME)is not totally supporting this yet another bunch of welfare(my taxes,I'm a single 62 y.o.Sr.citizen)and FEMA is part of my tax. Help those who help themselves
Tell Miss Canada, Christine, to just harboring criminals and keep her nose out of OUR American business
Judy V. Augusta, GA


hey what's wrong with working at B.K. or anywhere that doesn't pay a 5 figure salary? People who have say on their sorry butts.having babies for another check,will not work.They didn't own a home anyway, Gov. paid rent,living in hotels is like a palace to them. those who OWNED homes are the ones to be helped. not the worthless people who are mad that Gov.( ME)is not totally supporting this yet another bunch of welfare(my taxes,I'm a single 62 y.o.Sr.citizen)and FEMA is part of my tax. Help those who help themselves
Tell Miss Canada, Christine, to just harboring criminals and keep her nose out of OUR American business
Judy V. Augusta, GA


We here in Atlanta have seen our fair share from New Orleans as well. Why are they here I wonder? why do they not go back home and be counter productive by helping rebuild. I know that 60% of those who live in other states now didnt have a house, or apartment they could call their own. That they got by having welfare in the first place. Or section 8 of some kind. It is funny I keep hearing about how this is a racist problem, but yet there were all nationalities and races affected by the hurricane together, at the same time. I didnt see a big wave coming thru town singing hate songs against one race. If I was in New Orleans right now, my message to those who are elsewhere and not coming back unless they had a home to live in would be this...."If you stayed away while we rebuilt, then dont come back."

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