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.
Despite rain, volunteers from the New Waveland Cafe paraded along Highway 90 in a rousing goodbye to the community on the cafe's last day of operation. Drawn from as far away as California and Wisconsin, they gathered in Waveland shortly after Hurricane Katrina to serve free hot meals three times daily to all comers.
Known as "hippies" locally, the free-spirited group heads next for Chalmette, La., near New Orleans. Click "play" to see more of the parade and hear Waveland resident Russ Todd express his gratitude to the volunteers.
The free food and goods being poured into this region so that its residents will have a lifeline that covers their basic day-to-day needs are going away. Some outlets could be gone in a month; three months at the outside.
"It's a process," says Bryan Adam, director of emergency management services for the area. Hancock County, which includes Waveland and Bay St. Louis, has drawn up a 30-60-90 recovery plan that outlines what free goods and services will be shut down.
"We need to get our economy back," Adams said, and businesses might be reluctant to start up again when all their customers are getting hand-outs. However, Adams also stressed that "nothing is written in stone" as far as the recovery plan goes. "If the need is still there, then of course we won't be shutting anything down," he said. How will he know? "We'll just know," he said.
And then there were 20. That's the official number of missing persons whose whereabouts are still unknown in this region of the Gulf Coast, according to Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.
That number is a tiny portion of the more than 6,600 people still reported missing as a result of Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Center for Missing Adults, which is working with federal government to help account for the victims.
Hargrove's office is part of an ad hoc group put together shortly after Katrina hit with the goal of locating the missing in this southern Mississippi area. The group includes the Bureaus of Investigation from Mississippi, Kansas and Georgia; the U.S. Marshals, the Mississippi Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the FBI, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Salvation Army.
New Waveland Café volunteers serve food for a community Thanksgiving meal.
This isn't their first Thanksgiving and it won't be their last; it just may be their most memorable.
All along the Gulf Coast, families and whole communities are celebrating the fact that they are simply alive. Three months ago when Hurricane Katrina blew this region apart, shattering property, people and their prosperity, being alive was far from a given.
And here in the tiny Mississippi towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis, where Katrina unleashed the brunt of her wrath, where people are picking up, literally, the pieces of their lives, they are not all that unlike the original Pilgrims, striving against the forces of nature to carve out new lives.
And so on this day, the people of these small towns came together in public places to share in a Thanksgiving feast not even imaginable just a few weeks ago.
No one's going hungry here on Thanksgiving Day. No less than five public feasts are being planned for Thursday's holiday in and around the towns of Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
Rough calculations, gathered from those groups offering free turkey dinners, indicate that more meals are being planned than there are people living in this storm-wracked area. Indeed, there is enough food being prepared to feed the populations of Bay St. Louis and Waveland even before Hurricane Katrina forced people to flee.
Too much of a good thing? Hardly. Even in these desperate times the community has risen to the occasion: organizers of the Bay St. Louis feast say the entire county has been invited to come share the bounty.
I'd like to think that the storm and the aftermath hasn't changed me, but I know it has. I guess I mean mostly in my ways of thinking, and attitudes. I'd hate to think that this has made me "pessimistic"... I'd prefer to think that I am remembering my Boy Scout days and simply being "Prepared."
Case in point, my bag. I've endured a bit of teasing of late over the "Man Purse" I've had at my side ever since we returned to Mississippi. Indiana Jones and Chewbacca notwithstanding, people seem to think that one's "manliness" is somehow compromised by having any sort of bag or satchel into which one might put things.
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- First came Katrina to wipe out their homes, then came the insurance adjusters to deliver the really bad news.
Because most of the damage in Bay St. Louis and Waveland was caused by storm surge and flooding, the vast majority of homeowners and many business owners are being told they were uninsured or underinsured for their losses.
"I fought the law and the law didn't win this time," says Michael Haggard, owner of Bay Discount Wine and Liquor.
Haggard's fight is with an edict from Mississippi's Alcohol Beverage Control board telling him he must now destroy $15,000 worth of product that came into contact with the flood waters brought on by Hurricane Katrina.
And that's good news, that's his "win," if you can call it that.
Destroyed cars lie where Hurricane Katrina's 30-foot ocean surge left them, battered and scattered amid the wreckage of Waveland and Bay St. Louis. Many cars were mangled and all were ruined by the salt water dunking, which corrodes electrical and other components even after the vehicles dry completely. Like houses of the area, vehicles that appear to have escaped destruction are doomed to failure by internal rotting.
Click "play" to see more vehicles and to hear car enthusiast Frank Hille describe the effect of hurricanes on automobiles.