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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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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- At the Business Assistance Center, two rows of chairs set up in a makeshift waiting area sit empty.  Two employees of the Mississippi Department of Employment Services sit at a folding table that doubles as a desk, in front of a big "Employer's Assistance" sign, with only each other for company.

And yet you can't throw a rock here without hitting a "Help Wanted" sign.  People ready to start rebuilding their homes can't find contractors with enough workers to begin the job.  At the same time, the unemployment rate has hit a staggering 20 percent in an area that before Hurricane Katrina blew through was sitting a statewide low of 5 percent.  The math just doesn't work.

The divergent economic indicators, which are visible all along the storm-battered coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi, are best explained by the outpouring of aid that has streamed into the area in the more than three months since Katrina roared ashore, according to some observers.

When the brutal reality of the damage to this Gulf Coast community became known, relief poured in from around the nation to help affected residents meet every need at least at a survival level.  Volunteer organizations have churned out a steady stream of free meals, serving thousands per day.  Distribution centers daily hand out free food and the basic stuff of life: soap, shampoo, diapers, water, ice and Top Ramen noodles.


Mississippi Department of Employment Services employees Ann Ladner and Roger Berry wait for job seekers or business owners in need of advice at the Business Assistance Center in Bay St. Louis. (James Cheng / MSNBC.com)

Soon after Katrina hit, the Red Cross handed out a maximum of $665 to every family that applied, depending on the number of people in a household. For some, FEMA kicked in $2,000   in emergency assistance as well as $2,358 transitional housing assistance. The state of Mississippi is providing unemployment money and has distributed debit cards worth up to $900 for the affected to spend on groceries.

It's given people here breathing room and perhaps a false sense of comfort, removing a sense of urgency to beat the pavement looking for work, says Buzz Olson, the economic and community development director for Bay St. Louis.

Click for related post: Farewell to freebies

"Where's the incentive to go to work right now?" Olson asks.  With all the free assistance, from money to food to federal grants, "that kind of takes you off the hook for a while," he adds. 

But he expects reality will hit soon enough.  "Now what’s going to happen come January or February, I think that unemployment number is going to start coming down because people will have to start looking for jobs, simply because bills will come due, they’ll start having to paying for groceries," and free services will start drying up as city and county officials begin the delicate balance of shutting down the giveaways, he says. 

It's a complex calculus to be sure, Olson said.  But something's got to give to provide the incentive for businesses and people to get back to work.

Back at the employment assistance table in the business center, the two representatives from the state Department of Employment Services see the situation a bit differently.

Click for related post: Hispanic work wave

"Right now (the unemployed)  have so much on their minds -- having to find food, water, the basic necessities, even though you do need a job, it’s like you just, you just can’t concentrate," says Ann Ladner, a 23-year veteran of the employment agency on the job for the first day since Katrina hit.

"This was a step for me," says Ladner, who lost everything to the storm.  "I decided last night that I needed to try and come back (to work) and get something normal back into my life instead of just having destruction everywhere.  I don’t know if others have that initiative, or are ready to come back."

Roger Berry, Ladner's colleague, says he was "swamped" last week during a job fair, but that was an unusual spike in activity. 

'Our basic need is security'

"I think what we’re running into is our basic need is security, to take care of the family," he says.  "There are so many folks here that lost everything; they’re trying to get their home re-established so that they know the wife and children are taken care of, or the single parent is trying to get things straightened around so the children will be settled so she can go work."

Berry says he can't blame people for not hustling to get to back to work just yet and he doesn't expect the lull in job seekers to last long.  Once people are settled, they'll start looking again, Berry said. 

"I think it’s just a matter of time," he says.  "... You can’t blame the people for feeling like they do."


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I can not believe the people who have posted messages with references to people being lazy. These people have lost EVERYTHING. Most likely the clothes, tools, alarm clocks, etc. that are needed to have a job are gone along with the two forms of id required to start a job and get a paycheck. What about daycare? Most likely gone. It seems to me that feeding your family while living in a tent or without electricity would be a monumental feet. This is not a normal situation.

If you haven't seen the results of a hurricane first hand its hard to understand the short and long term impact. I was without power for almost 2 weeks due to hurricane wilma Everything was shut down no stores open, no gas stations open no traffic lights. It was like an out of body experience, a bad third rate horror flick showing the world after a worl war. AND IT WAS ONLY 2 WEEKS! People Who haven't seen mass destruction and its aftermath in person can't comprehend its impact. Housing, and safety and food are all you think about in a big storms aftermath. The government (state, federal, local) has to concentrate its efforts are these areas and come up with solutions beyond a tent and and some free food each day. This takes time and mega bucks. It doesn't happen overnight. Expecting people who have lost everything to back to normal in 3 months is unrealistic

small chrildren....living in a tent...ya can't just leave them...on the other hand i would hate to know i had to work for 8$ a hour...but i would until some thing better came along!!!

We have a large unemployed male and female community in South Carolina. Many would love to work in the Katrina Zone. It is very difficult to get information on jobs and housing. They would need a place to stay while employed.Its so complex. I wish someone would start sending out employment/employee request to states surrounding the Katrina Zone. I am sure they would be flooded with responses.

Show me where the free handouts are, not FEMA, they denied me assistance and I have over 65,000 in damages. After my home inspection they stated I voluntarily withdrew myself for assistance! My sister had to break into her FEMA trailer after is sat for 3 weeks and she received no key. The red cross is gone! The place is a mess, I still have debris piled by the road and the neighbors house is about to cave in...those of us with insurance are trying to do the right thing - but, give me a break, if you are not here, trust me you just don't understand.

Some people still don't quite understand the impact that Katrina has had on the Gulf Coast. For some people to go to work, you need daycare. There are none. A typical commute for some to work use to be 20 to 30 minutes. But with roads still out, bridges that will be out for the next two years, at least, and the extra traffic on the already congested roads of the MS Gulf Coast, that commute has now at least doubled. Want to get work done on your house, if you have one left to work on. Most likely the insurance has left you with a check, if you have been lucky enough to receive anything, that does not cover the cost of repairs. This means, getting enough estimates to satisfy the insurance company so they can assign another adjuster and issue a supplement. This all takes time, time off of work that some employers are not sympathetic enough to understand. Also, don't forget, our schools here just opened a month ago. If you were a restaurant worker before the storm, well, most of the restaurants are gone, where should these people go? Then you have the thousands of Casino employees... I could go on, but some people would still not get it.

I'm truly shocked and saddened--but not surprised--at the "Get over it" tenor of some of these comments. Maybe when you lose everything that you own and face tens of thousands of dollars in debt--maybe hundreds of thousands--you'll understand a little more of the enormity of what the survivors are facing.

To Diane Hayes' comment: Part of the problem is that by suspending the Davis-Bacon "prevailing wage" act, Bush enabled contractors like Halliburton to hire cheap undocumented labor, leading to things like illegal immigrants being housed on military bases and working for peanuts. It took a public outcry, some sly Congressional opposition, and a few arrests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to change that particular tune.

After a natural disaster, it is common for the local citezens too be unemployed for some amount of time. How much time? That would depend on the circumstances surrounding the individual person/family needs. Since the state has been impacted instead of just one single town or city, the government should and I assume do already have a data base that shows what persons were already receiving benefits such as wellfare, food stamps, heating assistance etc..
It would make perfect sence if the state effected started placing caviats on gaining and continued benefits while unemployed.
IE: If the disenfranchised person is collecting unemployment are they looking for work? Are they able to do the work that is currently available?
A person with physical disability and unemployed certainly can't get a construction job, but the majority of the work available is only construction.
What do we say to that person when the time comes to review their ability to continued benefits? " Sorry but your refusing work that is available." ?!
As a person who has worked in this sector previously I understand that there will be times when the government and the person involved will have colliding agendas.
It is in that time that the mistakes can and will be made.

My wife and I just got home after a week working in a Mississippi coastal relief center; we also had time to travel the length of the area from Biloxi to New Orleans on our way back to the comfort of home. To see it is not only to believe it, it is to be shocked into the reality of the human spirit which is alive and bringing life back to families and individuals whose lives were so devistated by the hurricane. What has been done to provide housing and other physical resources is but a drop in the bucket in relationship to the need that exists. Many of us like the quick fixes, but believe me this will be no quick fix, especially with all the work that only government and charity/religious resources must continue to provide for an indefinite future. Look at the resources poured into Iraq in three years to rebuilt and stabilize a country whose destruction is not too unlike the coast, and still we say they are not ready for us to leave. The gulf coast is a part of this country, and like urban neglect, we will pay the price one way or the other by our response...I like the phrase of one of the priests I met at the relief center, "what we are doing is priming the pump of hope!!" It is cheap talk to say to a person in grief, that what they need is to get on back to work or keep busy...be it the loss of a son in Iraq or a house on the coast. These are good people, responsibile people, and people with roots in hard work. They will survive with or without the rest of us, but it would sure be to our advantage to share in it, as long as it takes, and not in judgement.

Lee in St Martin...I do know what has happened to your community. My brother was on duty there and nearly lost his life trying to rescue a family from the surge. He works on the western side of the county every day. I know about the roof of the school that was being used as a shelter, falling in at the height of the storm. I know extensive the flooding was. I know there is basically nothing left in a lot of D'Iberville, Gulf Hills, Porteaux Bay area, along the coast of Ocean Springs and into Gautier, as well. I know destruction is all around, and that even though many times Jackson County is not mentioned as having the same type of destruction as Hancock or Harrison, I know it did happen there too. Not too many people realize that Jackson suffered the same fate as Hancock; both are shallow low-lying counties that had flooding right up to the northern county line. I know that all of Pascagoula was flooded and there are hardly any buildings there that remain that will not have to be torn down and rebuilt; that just because the buildings are still standing in the aerial NOAA images doesn't mean that area didn't suffer devastation. I didn't need any photos to know; when I saw Kat move in on the radar images I knew what was happening then.

In St. Martin everyone calls the community St. Martin but everywhere else they think of it as part of Ocean Springs; it's not incorporated. Don't feel slighted because St. Martin isn't mentioned specifically.

The govt hasn't done it's part, and there is still virtually no media coverage, and people with no compassion and nothing but resentment and anger who generate blog entries like these, or respond to the blog, but know that there are still lots of people like myself who know what has happened, and a day doesn't go by that we don't think about what is happening there, and try to do what we can. It seems like what one individual can do is so small, but that's not true, because there are thousands of us, and it does make a difference. Not everyone in our country is self-centered, unwilling to give, mean-spirited, all too ready to believe some cooked-up negative spin on our country's biggest disaster. There are still a lot of good people, ordinary people, who will do what they can.

Houston is watching relocated Katrina evacuees give up their housing and waiting employment in other states because they heard they will get a better deal in this city. Let's see--free rent,free new furniture, free groceries, free utilities ,and free health care for 12 months. Please show me where the incentive to look for employment is?

The poor in Houston who were already living here would a little of that deal. They can't pay rent, they're out in the street, the food bank runs out of supplies--they go hungry. If they have a place to live, they will sit in the dark when they can't pay the monster utility bills. Personally, it's time for a little caring to be shifted their way,too.

I live about 40 miles from Bay St. Louis and about 40 miles north of New Orleans. If you are not living in this disaster you do not get it. I am fortunate enough to have a house to live in even though it is damaged, I had a job to go back to (after it reopened 4 weeks later), and my son had a school to return to. But MANY families do not have these essential parts of their lives left to build on. It is ALL GONE. Yes, I totally agree that people need to help themselves. But until you actually see it you just don't get and never will. I am grateful for the outpouring of help from the faith-based communities. They have done more for the hard hit areas than any government or relief agency. Also, after paying premiums for 15 years, my insurance company has yeet to send an adjustor to my house almost 4 months after the storm. "Just take some pictures and we will get there when we can." Until you live through this you don't get it and never will.

I bet the Mayor if STEAMING after reading Buzz Olsons comments. When the Mayor of Bay St. Louis promoted Buzz Olson to his new position of Economic and community development director he should have took into consideration that Buzz lacks public relations skills and apparently pretends to have insight to every single taxpayers predicament since Katrina. Because Buzz’z statements had to of angered many taxpayers here in Bay St. Louis and he didn’t leave one incentive for any taxpayers to hunt for a job, he probably did nothing more than encourage many taxpayers to pack up and leave. As if the big demand for U-hauls coming in and out of Bay St. Louis is an indication of what is happening.

Buzz let’s have a reality check shall we? First of all, faulting taxpayers to get up off their lazy mooching duffs to go find jobs was your first mistake. It was a little arrogant for you to be spouting off when you sit there holding a job and a salary that is being paid by the very same taxpayers you are insulting. Get the point Buzz?

Secondly, to pretend that you and county have the power to shut down charitable giveaways to force the hand of taxpaying storm victims to go find jobs to bring revenue back into this city was your second mistake. You better hope and pray that those organization giveaways stick around for quite sometime because that is what is keeping these taxpayers HERE and surviving the biggest disaster to hit America. If you haven’t noticed Buzz, FEMA is in a stall pattern and people are waiting desperately on their SBA loans or FEMA assistance to start rebuilding their lives and homes and businesses. The same businesses that supply JOBS. There are only a handful of Business’s open in the Bay and it doesn’t leave for a big job finding environment at the moment. And anybody who is fortunate to have a job isn’t spending their money here in Bay St. Louis, their spending it out of our area and state where they can find food, homes and water. Get the point Buzz?

Good Lord, will Mayor Favre ever get it? When will he stop surrounding himself with an administration who say yes yes yes and pretend to like him and start hiring and putting into place people who have VISION, COMMMON SENSE and can actually DO THE JOB.

Very well said Lee Wilkerson. I have never answered or responded to post-Katrina comments before. However, the more I read the more infuriated I become. So, here goes.

First and foremost, the news media may mean well in its attempt to "educate" the public with regard to the problems at hand. However, their coverage is fraught with bias. Why? Because the news media as a whole requires advertising - got to catch the public with whatever and however. Therefore, their articles are skewed and often very 1-sided.

Until you have walked the last 3 months in the shoes of those who have lost everything... think about that EVERYTHING... who are you to judge and decide how they should feel and/or how long they entitled to feel it? Get a job? Excuse me, getting a job is hard enough anywhere across the US. Try here! I'm sorry, the number of jobs available in these devistated areas are limited to construction, hotels, restaurants/fast food. These are not long term employment solutions or careers, just temporary employment. Then what? For so many people, the job they had that paid the bills and gave them a sense of identity is not there anymore or worse the job is there but they have not place to live in order to get to this job.

The Gulf Coast region and City of New Orleans need a hand up. They never asked for a handout. The people of MS & LA are proud people who love where they live. All we ask is that you help us help ourselves.

During this Christmas season now more than ever let us all remember that something like this could happen to any one or group of us. Is this how you want everyone to think and react in your time of need?

Way to go Margie for your comments and kudos to Gov. Gene Taylor for setting up tents for all of congress to see. I am turning up the heat in my home, I can't imaging living in a tent and not having central heat or a fireplace for my family. I am amazed at the "judgment" of others. When we judge others it usually comes back to us. I don't think anyone wants another Katrina or some kind of other devastion coming to them. I work at an eye doctors office and witness "freebies" everyday. I see the medicaid benefits abused and used and yet we have been paying for others in this country (who can't hold a job or make it) for years. You are always going to have people that take advantage of a situation but most of the time you do have people that honestly need it.
My friend who worked for the casinos (management) gets somewhat of a check from them for about a year but instead of sitting and waiting a year she is working with her ex-husband and friends (who all had jobs with the casinos ) cleaning peoples lots. Her ex-husband got a truck from his brother in Texas and they are hauling garbage and whatever to make money. She said this is the hardest she has ever worked in her life. She has lived her whole life in Waveland and has a beautiful home that she worked and paid for. She could move to Hattiesburg with her family and live, but her daughter (who was interviewed in an earlier story) wants to finish high school with her friends at Bay High. So my friend cleaned the water out of her home, did the repairs, replaced furniture(has no place to work) but is going to do whatever it takes to let her child follow her dreams. They have to travel to Slidell, LA or Mobile to shop at a mall. They have a few stores open along the coast for food but she mostly shops in Slidell. She has not taken advantage of anyones kindness. But has so much gratitude. Grateful to this country and the wonderful people in it but also to God. She is a great person, along with 99% of the people who live there. So don't point a finger at these people who are trying to do the best with what they got, because while you are busy pointing,three other fingers are pointing back at you!

Louisiana Issue:

1. More damage to St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes than Orleans, yet New Orleans received all the attention from the media, hence received most of the aid both in manpower and capital. The Mayor purchased a nice house in Texas, his family still resides there, yet he ask others to return?

2. You can literally pour Billions into New Orleans and less than a year later, have nothing to show for it due to internal corruption. I know this as I have lived more than 30 years in and around the city. The people elected idiots to represent them and this is a tradition that goes back to Sen. Huey P. Long in the 1920's.

3. The displaced people from the flooding inside of New Orleans that everyone had seen was from fresh water in the Intracostal canal. This 9th ward has been a haven for drug and prostitution for the past 40 years. Its has been unsafe to walk anyone near there and the only establishments are liquer stores and a gas station or two, that sell liquor. This isn't because of race, it is because the people there do not care about fixing the real crime issues. No one wants to get involved, everyone wants it done for them. Even some of the officers of the NOPD have been known to pimp prostitutes in that area. It was never uncommon to stop behind a local in this area and watch them dump an entire family pack of empty Popeyes chicken wrappers directly on the street from their vehicle. We are talking large bags of clutter, without a thought. That is the mentality you are dealing with in that area. No one maintained their real estate there, and no one from the city ever enforced any codes, much less any of the existing laws. The people in New Orleans East are a Mixture of White, Light, Brown, Black, and Yellow peoples. They where flooded by the brackish waters of the area surrounding Lake Pontchartrain, they received floodwaters above the roof, unlike the 9th ward which received much less fresh water and recieved all the assitance or help. That area too, a haven for major crime, which was so bad, they closed an entire huge mall "Lake Forrest" with ice skating ring and big three clothing/department stores because of theft, shooting, crime, and violence that was both surrounding the mall, and then entered the mall.

4. The displaced people from flooding in Plaquemines and Saint Bernard Parish are left with unrecoverable damage if they have been left with anything. There was no fresh water; the Gulf of Mexico rose 20 feet above its normal tide in a storm surge. Nearly all homes where complete soaked in salt water. Whatever the water left was ruined by the brine mixture and quickly oxides everything beyond use. In addition the two large oil refineries which have existed for decades behind chemical retaining levees where flooded. This released toxic petrochemicals that upon the water recession back into the Gulf of Mexico left the land unsafe for plant or animal.

I have relatives that lost everything, and they are starting over, and working. They all started working, they found employment. Burger King was offering 6k sign on bonuses, that should paint a picture of the job market. There is no excuse for those people from the 9th ward of New Orleans, many of which have been on a paid “Vacation” in Atlanta, receiving handouts hand over fist, complaining the entire time of loss when they resided in “Free” property, nevering paying rent.

Everyone there lost when the government, both Federal and Local failed. Everyone there again loses when they must rely on the media to raise attention of their fellow tax paying countrymen!

When Hurricane Katrina first hit the Gulf Coast I was devastated. I felt like I was looking at pictures of some other country. And then everyone pulled together to try to help these people. Initially I was worried that the Gulf Coast would be abandoned, luckily people have stayed or returned. This is an area so embedded with American History that it would be awful to imagine it gone. These people lost everything and need our continued support. Our government is a slow working machine. They need the support of our entire country. The only people who should be allowed to complain or voice any anger are those directly impacted by this tragedy.

I would like to set the record straight. I live in Wavelnd...we currently have zero grocery stores, 2 gas stations, 1 take out chinese rest. a Sonic and a make shift WalMar. I am a full time employee at the hospital, and there is 2 patients there now..the hospital has to cook food off site and bring it in for patients,there are no facilities in the hospital for food prep. In fact, the entire 1st floor is gutted. We have 1 auto parts store open now...and our schools don't have books and material for students.Yea, I could leave town...and go to? I still have a mortgage on this peice of a home I own..how do I pay that AND rent somewhere else?Please...before you think that you know what we are going through...come visit us for a week. There is no amount of free stuff worth living like this!

To: Brock Meeks. How long could you survive here on the Gulf Coast if you had the clothes on your back no car no house and 2,000 dollars in cash? That money would be gone before you could say "employment assistance" How is it that the United States Govt. Has the ability to "Rebuild Iraq" But can't help it's own wounds to heal?


first of all, the government has the audacity to let this happen, and blame the local city governments for this. I cannot believe this is taking place here in America. This is the self proclaimed "greatest country in the world." Why the hell I am paying 30% of my income for taxes if we cannot help rebuild our own country. We spend over a billion dollars a week on a war, that now even the president is saying he received faulty information. We should help these people endlessly, I know many in the US take what they have for granted. I see it on a daily basis. I can even be blamed for this. It is time to help our own country, and for once, let some of the rest of the world contribute to rebuilding other countries. I have been to New Orleans 5 times, Jazz Festival, Mardi Gras, and it is amazing. The government should concentrate on helping there own, instead of spending billions of dollars on a war that has not gone well, to say the least. God Bless our troops! I hope some day we get some people in government, whether it be republicans or democrats, that have some compassion for our own people.

I completely agree! How dare the this administration ask congress for approval of billions of dollars for Iraq when New Orleans and other gulf coast cites are suffering so! SHAME ON YOU!

To Chuck in San Diego: Consider this side of the story - if everyone didn't expect the government to pay for everything from under the sun up to city reconstruction think about how much of that 30% we'd to keep. I agree it is time to be selfish in this country and fix our own inequities and then maybe - just maybe we get to keep more of the money we work so hard to earn...personally I'd rather head to the devastated regions with a cargo van of things they need, but paying so much in taxes doesn't allow me that luxury.

I would like to praise the fact that this article depicted both sides of the picture - freebees DON'T create initiative to go out and work. HOWEVER, these people have had to deal with something SO MANY of us could never comprehend. I personally am a FIRM believer in taking personal responsibility for your actions and taking charge of your own life - not letting others pave the way for you. If you talked to me about my history, you'd understand. Therefore, I believe a VERY DELICATE balance must be struck between graciously giving out freebees to all and any, and completely taking benefits away. I believe a measured decrease, taking the levels of aid down in a timed, planned fashion would be the best course to take. We'll see what happens, though.

This is all very sad.

My family is Florida-born and reared for almost a century. We have experienced many hurricanes, though none as widespread and devastating as Katrina. My son resigned his position as geologist for a Knoxville environmental company to begin working in New Orleans December 1. He is young, experienced, and strong both physically and emotionally. However, when I hear the exhaustion in his voice (12-15-hour days for 14 days, then one day off), and his dispair in seeing how people are having to live there, I am angry. I am angry the Bush administration is spending billions of our tax dollars on the war in Iraq, a war based on lies told to us, but ignores the well-being of our own people.

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