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.
Maria Russell lists her dog Jim as something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. (Image courtesy of Maria Russell)
There are so many topics one could write about in this post-Katrina state. Initially, I thought I would write about “diversions,” something so desperately needed by someone who is usually positive and “up” like me. After all, living among rubble, driving past endless miles of enormously high piles of debris, and making daily trips for something as simple as water CAN eventually wear down one’s spirits.
It didn’t take me long after accepting the reality of Katrina that I needed something to do. In those first few days after the storm, I was hardly ready for a “job,” but still, I needed a reason to get out of bed. Although Dave and I lost everything, I was not about to fill my days with going to the distribution points and hording anything and everything I could, like some people were. I counted myself fortunate to have a roof over my head (a rather small, but perfectly adequate, truck/camper), enough money for food and necessities (despite not having anywhere to shop), and above all, insurance.
Bay St. Louis resident Mary Johnson filled her cart with yams, turkey legs and other holiday season essentials at the Waveland Wal-Mart Saturday, grateful she no longer has to drive 45 minutes to Gulfport or Slidell, La., for groceries.
“I’m trying to get us a few things, get us a Thanksgiving dinner,” said Johnson, who is living in her partly damaged house and planning to make gumbo for an extended family including her six children and 13 grandchildren.
The Wal-Mart reopened Saturday as a shadow of its former self but was a welcome sight for residents who have had to drive 20 miles or more to shop for groceries and other essentials until now.
WAVELAND - With her long blonde hair, rhinestone-studded sunglasses and electric blue suit, Chari Rapp cuts a striking figure as she cruises the ruined streets of Waveland in a sparkling white Jaguar luxury sedan.
Since Hurricane Katrina gutted her office building, rendered her rental properties uninhabitable and destroyed her listings, the real estate agent has been working out of the trunk of her instantly identifiable car with an unshakable faith that this devastated area will recover, and eventually grow bigger and better than before.
I exchanged tearful hugs and a goodbye with yet another dear friend and her family this week. Her reasoning for packing up and leaving was understandable. It’s wasn’t so much because of Katrina but her fears of what the aftermath of this storm will bring. I have the same concerns as she does. She loves Bay St. Louis, spent 31 years of her life here and today, in heartbreaking truth, is no further ahead than what she was when her family made the decision to move here to build their future of dreams. I can’t argue that point, I am in the same boat as her family and hundreds of others.
Cindy was very upset and her words nearly broke my heart in two. She told me she "doesn’t have another 31 years left to try again…and has never felt like she was really a part of Bay St. Louis, even though she had raised three children here. It’s not about families, values and building strong communities and homes for hard-working families and their children. It’s about historical buildings; artwork and politics.”
Since I can only access e-mail at school now and grades are due this week, let me come right to the point and say “Bring on the parades!”
I am in this as deeply as anyone. I also wonder about when the debris will be removed, what the new building codes will be, whether I will move to Bay St. Louis or stay in Waveland, what is going to happen next at any given point in my day, and why I can’t find the new FEMA elevation guidelines on fema.gov. I have no idea what’s going on. One of my students allowed as how she knows a lot more since the storm. “Funny,” I replied. “I seem to know a lot less.”
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- If you happen to be in the market for 500 men’s tuxedo jackets -- black, white, tails and regular, sizes tiny tot to 64L, have we got a deal for you. Only one problem: no pants.
Sylvia Young, owner of Bon Temp Roule in the historic downtown of Bay St. Louis, has been open for business since early October, and she is willing to make a deal.
Young has owned the business since moving from New Orleans 15 years ago, selling ball gowns for the Mardi Gras ball season, bridal dresses for weddings and an enormous array of costumes, from Gen. George Washington to Gen. Robert E. Lee to Austin Powers.
On Wednesdays, Bay Waveland Yacht Club members traditionally raced sailboats and retired afterward to their clubhouse for drinks. Hurricane Katrina removed the building, most of the boats, and part of the marina, but this week the Wednesday evening party happened anyway.
Despite a persistent chilly wind, about 20 club members barbecued steaks, gathered around a fire, and drank wine from small plastic cups under a starry sky. Click "play" to hear sounds of the party and the dream to rebuild the yacht club.
Waveland Town Council meetings have become contentious affairs, reflecting a community overwhelmed by the destruction of Katrina, which has left hundreds of its residents living in trailers with no real idea when or how they might be able to rebuild.
At Wednesday’s standing-room-only session, a shouting match broke out almost from the outset over a seemingly innocuous proposal for a holiday parade in December. One resident objected loudly – wouldn’t shut up, in fact – arguing there is no time to be wasting time on parades when people are wondering where they are going to live.
As Heather and I have returned to playing in New Orleans over the past few weeks, it's been interesting to have the conversations we've been having. Most of the clientele at the Bombay Club are locals New Orleanians, and the admiration that we've heard from them toward Mississippi and its efforts to rebuild has been staggering.
When we first started telling our friends in the Big Easy that we were going to move out of the city (about a year ago) the reactions we got were so negative. "You're kidding, right?" "Well, guess you won't be needing your shoes," "I wouldn't go there. ... They've got a slave mentality over there!" Since we had family here (and since Heather basically lived here every summer of her childhood) we weren't biased by these mistaken stereotypes of Mississippi.
The bad news is that hundreds of businesses were destroyed and probably will never reopen. The good news is that more than 100 enterprises are up and running in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, and many of them are doing a booming business.
Officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency spent two days canvassing businesses throughout Hancock County in late October and concluded that 800 businesses were either damaged or destroyed, but 300 were up and running and another 142 had plans to reopen. The county has a total of about 1,400 businesses including government offices, according to local tax records.
Among the busiest spots in the county is Hubbard's Waveland Hardware, which opened within two weeks after Katrina, handing products over a board at the front door and rounding prices to the nearest dollar. Today the 51-year-old family-owned business is thriving, one of the few signs of commerce in the devastated area south of Highway 90.