Above:A 360-degree photo shows a rusted boat and other wreckage at Bayou Caddy, a port west of Waveland. (John Brecher / MSNBC.com)
About this project
In the coming months, MSNBC.com will focus its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina recovery on two cities on the hard-hit Mississippi coast.
Though Bay St. Louis and Waveland are far from the media spotlight on New Orleans, the intertwined fates of the people, businesses and institutions in these towns tell the story of an entire region's struggle to recover from the most destructive storm in U.S. history.
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — Everything is different here since the storm, but in the effort to get back to normal, Friday night football has a clear lead. Even though the high school itself will not reopen for another week, the Bay St. Louis-Waveland Tigers are playing their fifth game of the season, going into it with an impressive 3-1 record. This time it’s a home game against the Tylertown Chiefs.
Under these bright lights, in a town that is largely dark, you can almost imagine it is like the old days, before Katrina. The home team bleachers are full, the cheerleaders and the dance team are back. Spectators hold infants and toddlers in their laps, while clutches of teens mill around. There’s cheering for the Tigers, and occasionally screams of abuse at the last bad call or the player who fumbled.
WAVELAND, Miss. — For several weeks after Katrina, Raymond Cuevas, Commander of the American Legion Post 77, saw nothing much to salvage from the organization’s lodge on the waterfront. The 13,000 square foot facility was ripped clean off the foundation, leaving steel I-beams in a heap like so much spaghetti.
But just last week, after much searching, he found the organization’s safe in the trees, about 100 yards away from the building site. As he had hoped, about $6,000 that he had left in the safe was still inside. The problem was, as he discovered after using a blow torch to open the safe, it was also filled with a soupy, foul-smelling mud. So began the torturous process of money laundering.
WAVELAND, Miss. — As we drive up rubble-lined Coleman Avenue from the beach, we find Brian Mollere holding court with friends. They are perched on coolers and lawn chairs on his property, next to the empty foundation where his house once stood, and they are agitated.
The talk of the day is a set of proposals for redeveloping the Bay St. Louis-Waveland area, including plans for a seaside park, streetcars and, importantly, adopting much stricter building codes in vulnerable seaside neighborhoods like this one. By adopting FEMA's revised flood elevations map, upon which flood insurance rates are based, many structures would need to be built three to eight feet higher than before Katrina to comply. Mollere would be forced to build at three feet higher.
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – If there is a lifeblood to the rich and storied culture of this community, it is faith. As constant as the summer heat and as strong as the ancient oaks that withstood Katrina’s wind and water, it is everywhere. Faith runs through the people here as thick and sweet as Waffle House syrup, filling them with the certainty that their towns will rise again, that what was destroyed will be rebuilt, that what was lost will be found.
It is a faith that in some cases has nothing to do with God or Jesus or Jehovah or any other Higher Power, just an ingredient as vital to Southern living as corn is to grits.
WAVELAND, Miss. -- Second only to the post-hurricane clutter itself is the clutter of advertisements offering to clean it up.
The margins and medians of main roads are lined with postings for gutting and cleaning services—or, as some homemade signs put it, "Guttin’ and Cleanin'."
Others offer insurance-related services, including offers help to “insurance victims” in Hurricane Katrina. Roofing, hauling, machinery rentals, tree removal, decontamination and mold removal are sure to be big business for months to come.
Click ‘Play’ to hear Shirley Corr describe her ordeal with the higher cost of insurance.
WAVELAND, Miss. — Two months ago, Shirley Corr, 70, reluctantly retreated from her home here, near the beach, and went to her son’s house in Bay St. Louis to get out of Katrina’s way. It was not far enough. As floodwaters swept through that town, she ended up wading through chest-high floodwaters, holding her Chihuahua, Buffy, in one hand over her head, until her family secured a boat.
“It was a horrible nightmare,” she says. “I tried to never talk about it again. At least we survived.”
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss.—Principal Albert Beltran Jr. eyes a little boy leaning out of a tent with the word “Math” written in big white letters on the side.
“Johnny,” he says, “is what you’re doing something to do with math?” he asks, trying to prompt him to pay attention to the teacher. Johnny tries to explain to “Mr. Albert” that he was counting. Then, luckily, the class breaks for lunch, so he runs off to join his classmates for a Red Cross meal under a park shelter.
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- For some unfathomable reason, Benigno’s bar in the historic heart of this town went almost untouched by Katrina. The owners cleaned up the mess from a couple inches of flood water, hired all new staff and came back on line on Oct. 20.
As the only watering hole open in town, it is doing roaring business, eclipsing pre-storm business in spite of being forced to close for the 9 p.m. curfew each night. Clouds of cigarette smoke hang over the billiards tables and dart board, while thrash rock and country ballads drown out conversation.
WAVELAND, Miss. –- Eight weeks after Katrina clobbered this area, most people are trying to figure out what’s next. But with an undisclosed number of people unaccounted for, there are still recovery teams combing through the rubble with dogs, trying to find the missing.
Today a regional team from Homeland Security is focused on a devastated beach neighborhood where some of those missing were last seen. They investigate a small white house on Sears Avenue where some local residents, back to check on their homes, report a “foul odor.” As recently as last week, a report like this led to a local woman’s body. Sometimes they turn up barrels of fish or scare up water moccasins.
Sea Coast Echo News Editor Geoff Belcher published the paper's first post-Katrina edition from Kentucky. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – Before they could cover the biggest story of their lives, Randy Ponder and Geoff Belcher had to save their own.
As Hurricane Katrina barreled toward their Gulf Coast community with torrential rains and howling winds, Belcher, news editor of Hancock County’s Sea Coast Echo, and his wife threw their dog and cat in the car and headed for higher ground. Ponder, the newspaper’s publisher, put flashlights and a chainsaw in his attic and watched the water rise in his Waveland rambler.