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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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WAVELAND, Miss. – A lone man wielding a chainsaw in a fog-shrouded cemetery is enough to make anyone do a double-take.

But for J.E. Loiacano, a former high school and Mississippi State football coach who has owned the Gardens of Memory Cemetery in Waveland for two decades, cutting off stray branches in whatever the weather throws at him is strictly routine.

“It’s just got to get done. (The cemetery needs) perpetual care,” he says, adding that the grounds must be at their best for two services this week.

Even if he wasn't in the mood to work on this New Year's Day, like other business owners in the area he's had trouble finding workers, he says.

Katrina destroyed Loiacano's home in the Cedar Point subdivision and flooded both of his businesses -- the cemetery and Loiacano Health Club. Thankfully, the storm did not author any of the gruesome scenes of floating coffins seen during major floods in lower-lying areas of the Gulf Coast, he says.

Still, the storm did do a lot of damage to the cemetery, leaving Loiacano with plenty to do as he simultaneously attempts to rebuild his home and life.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do for this week,” Loiacano says, politely excusing himself to return to his chainsaw.

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65 COMMENTS

My wife and I are members of Coach J.E.'s gym and
have nothing but praise. He's a caring, helpful person
with great advice. He checked on my progress after
recovering from knee surgery and helped me with
strengthening exercises. He gave us both some
exercises to try after he found out we were going
skiing for the first time in many years. All for
free, all volunteered.

I hope to see his gym up and running soon, and
I wish him the best of luck.

J.E. Loiacano, God will reward you for your virtues. May He bless you keep you always.

I played high school football against the Gulfport East HS team coached by Coach Loicano. By far one of the best games ever played in MS was played between Pascagoula and Gulfport East in 1976. Coach Loicano's teams were well prepared, well coached and that strength and conditioning of body and spirit are desperately needed now. It is a dedication that is found deep in the roots of players coached by talented and dedicated peopley like J.E. Loicano and the inspiration that he left with those players that will allow So. Miss. to recover from this disaster.

So EASY to JUDGE ..... These people need help not condemnation. I can't begin to imagine what the folks of this area are dealing with daily to just survive. (without the goods & services needed in their communities) let alone attempt to rebuild their lives. What've you Jason or Don done personally to step up & help? Eh?

Mr. Loiacano,
I have not lived in the area for twenty years, but all my family still live there, so I know what your are going through...my prayers and thoughts are with you. Bless you and may you soon be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel!

To Jason...I take it you have come to realize your statement has caused a stir to other readers. Unless you have lived through what the Gulf Coast has experienced....it is hard to imagine what they are living with day to day. If a worker has no place to live, no transportation (public transportation is history too), and no clothes to wear...then it is a little hard to accept a job that requires you to have these things. Love, support (monetary, physical and spiritual), and admiration are things the people of the Gulf Coast needs from the rest of us. It is easy to stand at a distance and say what you would do....it is another thing to be there and do it!!!

For Don in L.A......nothing about the tragedy of what has happened to the Gulf Coast is humorous! Offer your help....not your witty remarks!

Mr Loiacano, may God Bless you and keep you, not because of what you are doing publically, but for what's in your heart!

I'm thinking that Don Lewis might not realize that a health club probably isn't the most profitable business in an area where people have put cleaning up what is left of their homes and feeding their families as the ONLY prioties for the moment. J.E. good job thinking of others, when it is needed most!!

What a surprise to come to the website today and see a picture of Mr Loiacano cleaning up the cemetery where my grandparents, aunt and cousins are buried. Plus the added relief to be able to see their graves and to know that someone is taking care of them. One of the first questions I asked family after the storm was if the grave yards were ok. Thank you so much for your work.

I applaud Mr. Loiacano and all other hard-working southerners who are pushing forward despite incredible odds to maintain some sense of normality. I'm proud of the gulf coast citizens who are rallying round each other in an attempt to re-build what must seem impossibly lost. Keep on keeping on....

Reading this article and then the following comments really brings home the complexity of relationships
...remember that criticism generally just won't bring about the peace that everyone needs in their lives. It's also a good reminder that "walking a mile in their shoes" is also a really good idea....tends to bring understanding. I wish the good people of the southern states a great year in 2006. I hope that the people you are forced to depend on to assist your recovery will come through for you and soon. Meanwhile, know that people in the rest of this country do care...we here in the Pacific NW are suffering from flooding now but realize that it doesn't even compare to what you've been through. The best of 2006 to you.

As a former funeral director, thank you for all of the care and concern you have placed into your cemetery. They are places of solace for the living, and a place of honor for the dead, and you are truly treating it as such. Bravo and God bless.

May GOD Bless you and Grant you Peace. Keep up the good work and your head!!

Obviously, Jason has a warped sense of humor and his attempt at humor is sorely lacking. He should be ashamed of himself. Being in CA he possibly wasn't impacted directly as some of us in CA were. Think insensitive and stupid comments are better left unsaid. Perhaps spend more time contemplating the the "but for the grace of God" theory. It would be interesting to see how funny it would be for him.

What I don't get is the arguing. Here's a guy who's committed to his work and taking care of our departed loved ones, humbly and resiliently going about his life and doing what must be done. And here we are bickering about who's lazy and who's not. What gives, people? Honor the man for quietly standing back up after being knocked down, and give the subject some peace. Sometimes it's not about whether or not what you do looks good, it's whether or not it's got to be done. Hats off to you, sir, for putting one foot in front of the other. That's pioneer spirit I see in my parents, and I have yet to see in my own generation.

For three years I lived and worked in Gulfport and from photos friends have sent the area around 19th street is no more. Awonderful friend of mine I often think about is Marvin Grace a former police officer. He was not only a friend but also a mentor of sorts for me Marvin if you are alive and well this is Craig God Bless You and Yours in this year of 2006

I have to agree that people should stop bickering. Nothing gets done by continually talking about it, but everything gets done when you chip in and help.. I wish my health was good enough to go and help Mr. Loiacano. My heart and prayers are with everyone devistated by Katrina...Cheers to all that are standing their ground and taking care of their families to the best of their ability.. God Bless everyone

Bless you sir in your endeavors. Please try to ignore the unkind people who insist on making thier ignorance apparent to all. Your treasures are stored in heaven and that's all that counts.

Elizabeth W, ....well said!!!....but your generation has the spirit too...maybe just hasn't been seen yet...if their more wellspoken young people like you ....we will all see it soon

Whether you think what he is doing is the right way, or the wrong way, the point is, he is doing! Thank you so much sir for all your hard work. Some of us in the Northern states could do nothing but make our donations and watch while you folks felt the brunt of Katrina's force. Thank you for being a great example of an American. You are the kind of person this nation is built on. We could do with a few more of you.

May 2006 be a year of restoration, healing and joy. God bless you Mr. Loiacano.

Dear People of BSL and Waveland, we used to live there in 1988, I worked for Edmond Fahey F. H. and have not talked to anyone from there since the passing of Katrina. We love the area, my wife is from Moss Point and her family has lost most everything they knew as home. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you. All the best for 2006 and beyond.

Hi Mr. Loiacano,
Thank you so much for all of your hard work and dedication. You truly are a special person. You are one of those angels on earth.
Thank You from New Hampshire,

While i agree that it is a terrible sitution there in the Gulf Coast region. You do have to see the damage to truly understand what these people are going through. I have spent the past few months in the Slidell and Mandeville area, while my husband is working in one of the clean up crews, there are many there working on their homes but most of the residents who are working on their homes are also working at jobs. A large number of young adults just walking the streets and according to the newspapers there selling drugs in local parking lots. There is not a true feeling of helping one neighbor or the community. It was a heartbreaking sight. Even with the all the damage you can still how beautiful the area can be but most people aren't trying to make it that way they are waiting for the government to do it.

I was born in New Orleans but my ties to the city end there. At the age of 2 my family moved to Florida. I'm still a southern girl, but every chance I get I brag about being born in New Orleans. I have traveled back many times to see the home in which we lived when I was born and no matter where we live in the world (my husband's Air Force), or the direction we travel to get back to New Orleans, I'm never disappointed by the trip. It's the most beautiful part of the country in my opinion.
I was so touched to read about Mr. Loiacano tending to the graves even though he doesn't appear to be a young man, and yet was wielding a chain saw to rid debris. His concern for those that wish to pay respects to departed loved ones and those that must continue to bury friends and family by preparing the cemetery in a way that can help bring the focus to saying goodbye instead of worrying about debris all around, is very considerate. I read the messages from others and it seems he is a well respected man in his community. My family and I will continue to pray for all those affected by this awful devestation in the Gulf Coast area.
It seems to me though, that with all of these responses, that someone hasn't thought to get the news press that is still there reporting to bring to light the trouble with these insurance companies not paying claims. It sounds as if it's epidemic and with most of these people living in conditions I can only surmise to be deplorable, perhaps someone reading this message board is an attorney, or knows one willing to work pro bono on behalf of these folks that have lost everything to help get them back on their feet. Let's stop passing judgement and start doing all we can to help these good folks to get their lives rebuilt. So much pain and loss has occured, let's not add to it by passing judgement and insulting others and instead use our heads to come up with real solutions to bring some much needed relief. The first person I would contact is Bill O'Reilly at Fox News. That guy is a bulldog and won't let up until he gets answers. Make him aware of what these insurance companies are doing, and I bet you he'll get things rolling!
Best of luck to all the Gulf Coast residents and I pray that 2006 is a year of relief, rebuilding, and redemption for you all.

I left my home in rural va.to go south and lend a hand.I arrived in the Biloxi area in the first week of october,devistation of biblical proportions.I've meet some of the nicest people on earth,people that treat me like I have always been there.I am proud to have met people with the integrity to endure what I have seen on the Mississippi gulf coast.God bless!!

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