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.

Coastal Miss. vicinity

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.

Read about the towns

Hurricane Tish helps rebuild

Posted: Saturday, December 3 at 12:14 pm CT by

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- There’s Katrina, and then there’s Tish. Katrina’s force destroyed much of the Gulf Coast, but Tish Williams' energy is helping to rebuild it, or at least the part in her area of influence.

Head of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, Williams spends much of her day at an emergency office set up to help business owners rebuild, helping people in person or over the phone and, in our case, helping out-of-town reporters find the right people for the stories they're working on.

But you’ll also find her at ribbon cuttings, the chamber’s weekly after-hours event and at Bay St. Louis and Waveland town meetings. At a recent one, she was one of the last to leave, cleaning up after the audience.

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Can't give up just yet

Posted: Friday, December 2 at 11:15 pm CT by

Steve and I attended the Mississippi Renewal Forum meeting in Waveland on Thursday night. I'm glad to say the crowd's response was much more positive than last time any of these ideas were discussed. We arrived early and got seats, but there were many people who had to stand outside the portable building.

I must say I've been depressed lately. I have no interest in things, and I had all but given up on our lot in Waveland. We go there very infrequently these days. The Corps hasn't gotten there to clean it yet and the debris is too incredible for us to deal with. There's nothing to do but stand there and think how sad and bleak it all is. It's especially bad at night.

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Three months later: Inching toward normalcy

Posted: Friday, December 2 at 06:46 pm CT by

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.

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Vacation destination?

Posted: Friday, December 2 at 01:50 pm CT by

BAY ST. LOUIS -- There’s a new term being heard around town: Voluntourism.

The concept is to bring volunteers to Bay St. Louis and Waveland on their vacations, enabling them to donate their labor and at the same time restoring some semblance of tourism to the Gulf Coast.

“We’re talking about ground cruises, entertainment and food,” says Mike Sweeney, a coordinator at the Morrell Foundation’s relief center on the beach in Waveland.

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Flabbergasting FEMA flub

Posted: Friday, December 2 at 07:42 am CT by

Like everyone, we enjoy getting mail, especially now. Holiday cards and mail-order catalogs signal that Christmas will soon be here, and even in our present condition that remains a very good thing.

Imagine our surprise when we opened a letter from FEMA on Thursday that stated:

Maria_russell_house

Hurricane Katrina's impact on Maria Russell's home is shown in an image taken before (left) and after the devastating storm.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Mississippi have reviewed your request for disaster assistance. Listed below is our decision regarding your request. This initial determination will not preclude you from receiving future assistance.

Determination: IID- Ineligible – Insufficient Damage

Total Grant Amount: $0.00."

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Location of toy trove is strictly 'need to know'

Posted: Thursday, December 1 at 05:34 pm CT by

At the request of our hosts, we can only describe where we are as an “undisclosed location” in Hancock County.

That’s because organizers of a Christmas toy drive fear being swamped by locals if word gets out before they’re ready to bring parents in.

Thousands of toys in hundreds of boxes have been shipped from Florida, California and states in between after dozens of individuals, churches and other groups in Lakeshore organized to help the children of this devastated community, which is adjacent to Waveland. The donors include churches, charities and individuals.

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Shop owner makes a statement

Posted: Thursday, December 1 at 07:44 am CT by

Little red berries to decorate FEMA trailers could be the big seller this Christmas season at Just Duit Again, a gift store in Bay St. Louis that rose from Katrina’s rubble this week.

Owner Elise Haas doesn’t have high expectations for sales but she was determined to reopen. “It’s good for the town, it can have a domino effect and motivate people” to rebuild, she said as she prepared for a dedication ceremony at the new site on Highway 90.

The store was originally called Just Duit, but Haas tagged on “Again” to underline the fact that she is back.

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Sunbathing for a cause

Posted: Wednesday, November 30 at 02:50 pm CT by

Soaking in the rays, she’s a sunbathing beauty that provides some needed visual relief from the trailers, tents and trash along Beach Boulevard in Waveland. But she’s also got a real job: providing purified water used by a relief group and locals.

To be honest, she won’t win any beauty contests -- her real beauty is in how she does her job. You see, she’s a mobile solar-powered water pump and purifier. Photovoltaic cells absorb the sun’s rays, creating electricity that can be stored or immediately used to pump water into purification tubes and then storage tanks.

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Liz Zimmerman: From cancer to Katrina

Posted: Tuesday, November 29 at 10:26 pm CT by

Click Play to hear Liz Zimmerman, 47, describe the life she had and loved, as well as her fear for the future.

WAVELAND, Miss. -- If you had to take on both cancer and Hurricane Katrina, which do you think would be the tougher battle? Liz Zimmerman did just that and doesn't hesitate to call the storm the more fearsome of the two evils.

"I never doubted for a moment that I'd beat uterine cancer, but with this you don't know what's going to happen from one minute to the next," says the 47-year-old single mother of two.

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Casino's uncertain future key for Bay St. Louis

Posted: Tuesday, November 29 at 04:35 pm CT by

Broken slot machines and torn insulation remain at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis. Click "play" to see more of the interior and hear manager John Chaszar tell a story about getting money out of the flooded casino. To see slot machines demolished after sustaining damage from Katrina, click here.

Looters in New Orleans walked away with millions of dollars worth of food, clothing, electronics and even guns after Hurricane Katrina, but a huge pile of cold, hard cash was left untouched at the Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis.

For five days, hundreds of cash-filled boxes from the evacuated casino’s slot machines stood unguarded in the wrecked hotel lobby building, vulnerable to “anyone with a sledgehammer,” said John Chaszar, senior director of resort operations.

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