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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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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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Jeff and Rose Watts are urban pioneers of the post-Katrina era. Less than seven months after the killer storm wiped their Waveland Avenue neighborhood off the face of the Earth, they became the first residents to rebuild and move back into a new home amid the devastation.

Gazing off the front porch of their cozy three-bedroom cottage, just a few hundred yards from the green Gulf of Mexico, Jeff Watts can see acres of broken brown pine trees, empty concrete slabs and barren lots littered with debris.

Yet he is thrilled to be back home.

“I don’t care what it looks like out there,” he said. “We’re just happy to be back.”

“It feels like we’re moving forward,” Rose Watts added.

After the hurricane took virtually everything they owned, the Wattses, who both are in their early 40s, figured it would be a year or two at least before they would be able to rebuild, especially because their insurance company denied their claim after determining the damage was caused by the storm's 30-plus-foot storm surge.

Then one evening in November, shortly after the couple moved into the FEMA trailer they parked on their property, a volunteer relief worker stopped by and asked them if they needed any help.

As previously reported on MSNBC.com, the volunteer was a member of an Old German Baptist Brethren church in Ohio who quickly organized a crew to build the couple a new house.

“I really didn’t know what kind of help we were going to get,” Rose said. “It just floored us.”

The volunteers turned out to be expert craftsmen who built the house from the ground up in just over two months, following a plan the couple had ordered to make an exact copy of their destroyed home, which was only 2 years old.

“It just flew up,” she said.

Workers incorporated salvaged lumber from the old house -- found scattered around the neighborhood -- and finished the kitchen with custom hickory-wood cabinets made by German Baptists in Ohio. The Wattses only had to pay $45,000 for materials, which they managed to raise by borrowing from Jeff’s government retirement plan.

In the months after the storm, it was unclear exactly what Waveland City officials would do with the devastated area south of the railroad tracks, where almost every home was destroyed along with the city’s historic commercial district and City Hall. A city official said 2,400 homes were destroyed in Waveland, which had an official population of only 6,674 before the storm.

The determination of the Wattses helped force the city to act.

“When we first applied, they told me they didn’t want anyone living here for a year,” Rose said. “We said, 'Where do you expect us to go? This is our home.' Slowly things started changing.”

After persisting for six weeks, the Wattses got their building permit in late December, the first one issued south of the tracks.

Since then more than 500 permits have been issued for reconstruction and repairs on city homes. More than 450 were issued in January and February alone, “which I think is astonishing,” said Mayor Tommy Longo. The pace seems to have slowed a bit since the city began charging for permits again on March 1.

The south-of-railroad area is still desolated, but there are more and more signs of life, including trailers, Quonset huts and a farmers market on Saturdays. While the Wattses are first to move in, they will soon have neighbors in three Waveland Avenue homes being finished by the volunteers from the same Ohio Disaster Response group.

“This is really starting something, getting the ball rolling,” Jeff said.

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33 COMMENTS

Man!!! this is wonderful...bless ya'll...and the German Baptists....the more i here of those folks...i might change my denomination....best wishes Jeff and Rose....take care!!

Congratulations! And, our heartfelt thanks to all the volunteer groups that have given so much to bring the Gulf Coast back to life. It's still a long road but the future is bright!

Webster Groves High School sent 40 students, parents and teachers to Ocean Springs for Spring Break and we managed to make a dent in helping folks "recover". There are people from all over the country helping the C.O.R.E. foundation help those in need. I get goosebumps when I read a story like this. It just shows..."we the people" can still make a difference.

What an awesome story! It really is all about people helping people, isn't it?

Alright!! Finally some good news from this area. Thank God for such fine people as these volunteers. They are truly the heroes of this disaster and people like them will be the driving force behind the rebuilding in these areas, not the govt.

Congratulations! Thank you to the many helping the coast!

Jeff, are you relatives from the McComb area? My maiden name is Watts & I would like to know more about my relatives.

It is nice to read stories about people pulling together, thank you to the German Baptists. However, it is so frustrating hearing about the greedy insurance companies. The CEO's are still pocketing top dollar every year, living in luxurious homes, sporting around in the yachts and sport cars, and yet we have so many folks without a home and without the dream of being able to rebuild their home due to the greedy insurance companies.

The volunteers who rebuilt Jef and Roses house. What group and where can they be reached ? This is what built America. Groups such as this and charities nation wide.Not Government handouts.I would like to help this group of volunteers. Thanks

I'm so glad that there are still people in that region helping out. Just because the media coverage dies down doesn't mean the need does. Congratulations Rose and Jeff! And God Bless the German Baptists!

Congrats and Welcome home! What an amazing church the Old German Baptist Brethren is. Such giving, warm and wonderful people. I am German but never knew of this denomination. I am proud to be of the same heritage and am looking into their church. To be like them just makes all the sense in the world. I have sent this article to many people that not only will enjoy it and be happy for you, but I am hoping it will also inspire them to get involved whether it be at home, work, church or even in the community itself.
Congrats again on being home!

There ARE miracles still being performed. Who would have ever thought a group of people like these builders would come along and give people such hope. God bless all of them. My prayers to the survivors of "Katrina" for brighter futures; don't give up. "Keep hope alive!!!!!"

Jeff & Rose - your home has been my daily inspiration! I actually stopped today when I saw Rose in the yard and told her how happy I am for you both! My home is a couple of streets away and every day on my way home, I would go down Waveland Ave just to see your home - it put a smile on my face and hope in my heart every single day. I too, was very fortunate to have an Amish group do plenty of work on my home and I should be back in it in about 2 mths - God bless you both and those of us who are staying will be the strongest people on this earth!
TR-BSL

absolutely wonderful story - such an inspiration!

It's great that there are so many volunteers helping people put their lives back together, but what happens if/when another hurricane hits the same spot next year or for that matter 10 years later? Are these people just setting themselves up for more heartbreak and the rest of us for higher insurance premiums?

I am from Springfield, IL. After reading this story; it makes you realize how blessed we really are and all the wonderful people that are out there. Good luck to everyone there. Keep your hopes and dreams alive. Beth

Awesome! GOD is a good GOD an his mercy endures forever. May GOD continue to bless you and all who visit your home. Only GOD knows tomorrow and he constantly send angels to remind us to place our hope in him alone. Trust GOD not man always.

It's so nice to see a house being finished and moved into. When I was helping in MS last Sept. and Oct. it seemed as if it would take years and not just months to get to this point . Kudos to everyone involved, especially the German Baptists.

It's so nice to see a house being finished and moved into. When I was helping in MS last Sept. and Oct. it seemed as if it would take years and not just months to get to this point . Kudos to everyone involved, especially the German Baptists.

Benjie - really glad to see you're happy for us! what will happen? the same thing that will happen when a hurricane hits the coast of YOUR state (Texas) and drives OUR insurance rates up! They will rebuild, because it is their HOME! This is such a great POSITIVE story on this website, please don't ruin it for us.
TR=BSL

The journey of one's life is blessed by the many blessings that come along. Good luck and best wishes.
In Hawaii the word "ohana" means family but we come to learn that family means everyone around us. ALOHA

I think all of the insurance companies that hapily took payments then denied claims for whatever reasons they could think up should be made public and boycoted. It's disgusting.

Benjie, you ask of next year or even 10 years....my people came to N.E. Missisippi in the 1840's...we aren't affected badly by hurricanes....but toronados are a differant story...do you think i would leave my home?....i don't think you would leave your home either...we all do what we have to...and home is home

When we witness the darkest of mankind's moments around the globe everyday with worldwide conflicts, famine, and lack of humanitarianism, it is a story like this that reassures us all that even a candle can light the darkest of rooms

God helps those who help themselves. Get off their duffs and work what they can. God bless the German Baptists. I know of the German heritage work ethic as I myself am of a second generation German heritage that came from Germany because of the government in Germany at the time my Grandfather came over as a young man of 18 to get away from the stifling government control. My father was a second child of this grandfather who taught us to be self sufficient, hard working, honest and fair. God bless my parents. . . .

My son and I left Waveland last Saturday.Replacing windows,doors etc.Have made 4 trips to volunteer in New Orleans (once) and Waveland area (3 times).Mississippi really needs help and they APPRECIATE it.It is sad that there are not more volunteers. What are you doing? Remember Mississippi!! They are 500x worse off than New Orleans.

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