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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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WAVELAND, Miss. -- At nearly midnight on a steamy July evening, floodlights illuminate a newly paved lot off of Highway 603, where workers are feverishly painting yellow parking space lines. They are putting the final touches on a new Lowe’s home improvement store that has been built in near record time. Home Depot is throwing open its doors to customers, right next door.

It’s not politically correct to say, but it’s hard to imagine a more fertile market for the two massive do-it-yourself chains. With thousands of homes and businesses destroyed or badly damaged, there is no end in sight for demand. With the gutting and cleanup largely completed, builders and homeowners who have been getting their supplies from Gulfport or Picayune will be relieved to have a ready supply on hand.

The mega chains are approaching the start-up a little differently in the wake of the disaster. Lowe’s had made plans to build here before Hurricane Katrina. The storm put the building site under 20 feet of water, delaying the start of construction, but when it did get under way, Lowe’s went full throttle, finishing the 94,000 square foot building in just under 90 days.

“That’s pretty much as fast as you can build it,” says Jason Cooper, construction superintendent.
Stocking the store will take about five weeks, he says, putting opening day just before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s not a big (Lowe’s)” says Cooper, who says some of the new stores are 130,000 square feet, “not that they don’t need a bigger one.” But he adds that the project is not “opportunistic.”

Next door, Home Depot is taking a shotgun approach to the demand and the opportunity. The chain had been looking at the region prior to Katrina, but hadn’t settled on a location.

For weeks, they have been operating an outdoor site in the parking lot of the now defunct Kmart, selling supplies to contractors — staples like 2-by-4s and sheetrock.

Home Depot still hasn’t pinned down a “premium location” — of the sort that they would normally need to put up a standard 100,000- to 120,000-square-foot store. But on Thursday they will hold a “grand opening” of a 35,000-square-foot temporary facility adjacent to Kmart aimed at meeting the primary needs of tattered Waveland and Bay St. Louis.

“We’re in an environment where we can move with the rebuilding process, stage by stage,” says store manager Scott Corry. That means they have many of the goods and services they would normally provide, minus some of the home décor trimmings and consulting services.

“We have pretty much everything else, but it’s crammed it into a small store,” he says. This approach imitates Home Depot’s post-Katrina efforts in the New Orleans area, focusing on smaller stores that try to keep ahead of huge demand for basic supplies, until the rebuilding of the area progresses.

Although Katrina forced Home Depot and Lowe's to shut down at least 10 stores apiece, it didn't set the business rivals back for long. All but a few reopened within days, and the two corporations began pouring shipments of supplies into the area, as well as millions of dollars in relief and recovery donations. In the first quarter of this year, Home Depot, which has more than 2,000 stores all told, saw record sales and a 22.8 percent increase over the same period in 2005. First-quarter profits for Lowe’s, which has more than 1,200 stores and is quickly expanding, increased 44 percent.

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Rather than see this as an opportunity to make money on rebuilding our homes, we should see it as a chance to rebuild correctly. There are many things ordinary people can do to prepare for a disaster apart from building doubly beyond building codes and in a safe location. Homes can also be improved in very practical and functional ways. Simply how we organize the home’s layout can dramatically alter how much we enjoy our home life and how well it can hold up to adverse conditions. It’s all a matter of where we place our emphasis. Contemporary homes fall into the most difficulty when owners focus too heavily on trying to present an air of affluence “for all the world to see.” Owners literally trip over themselves trying to out class their neighbors through the use of extravagant formal living and dining areas (that are hardly ever used), and fancy/decorative exteriors (with things like dormers, staggered rooflines, and garage extensions) that should otherwise be avoided. Such elaborate exteriors only provide more places for the roof to leak, more surface area for heat to escape, and a greater potential for severe damage to occur. These are not storybook times. The 85 to 130 years that an average home will last is a long time to simply hope you can just get by.

The inside layout of the home can be greatly enhanced by simply having a spare bedroom that is 3.1 x 5.3 meters which would allow up to four bunk beds to be placed in each of the four corners of the room. This allows an excess of the family members and friends a place to stay without having to sleep in the living room where no one can do anything in the home until they wake up. Similarly, the main living area in the home (which usually consists of a large, undivided living, dining, and kitchen area) needs to be separated into individual rooms so that activities or storm damage to one room, does not affect then entire lower level of the home. Separating rooms like this also prevents the rapid spread of fire and smoke and is also more energy efficient and structurally stable! I have many other similar ideas and an excellent four-bedroom emergency-enhanced home design to go right along with it. Homes should have rainwater holding tanks as a water backup, avoid bay windows that are harder to replace, consolodated plumbing that is easier to maintain, and garages should have garage closets that eliminate clutter so that all our stuff is not exposed if the garage door blows in.

Chris Eldridge
Author of Preparing for a Super-Disaster and Environmental Practices (Trafford.com)

I am thrilled to know that these people are finally getting the supplies that are way past due.

The only thing is - my heart breaks to think that it has been almost a year since they lost everything. Sometimes it makes it hard to believe that we live in the "United States of America".

Lowes can build a store in 90 days. We can send millions of dollars to terrorist countries for aid. In a matter of weeks we can have American boys & girls dropped off in Iraq to search for something that doesn't exist.

But 1 year later we're still trying to figure out what to do with and how to pay for Louisiana...

Thank God for American Capitalism. I just visited Waveland last week with a bus load of students. We had to drive back north for over 40 miles to find a large enough restaurant to eat. There's nothing left but "For Sale" signs and live oak trees. Even the grass is dead from the salt water. Where are all the workers needed to fix this place? It's almost the same as a it was 11 months ago.

This is great news! Two heavy-hitters like Lowes and Home Depot making a much-needed investment in this community may open the doors for other businesses to decide to locate here. And I know that the contractors working here will appreciate not having to waste time driving to Gulfport, Biloxi or Slidell to obtain the building materials they need. AND the traffic on 603 and I-10 will be alleviated from the decreased traffic from the do-it-yourselfers who have to leave Bay St Louis and Waveland to get the materials to repair their homes.

Before this story gets too many posts - As a resident of Bay St. Louis/Waveland area, I would like to ask all of you who are thinking about posting, let's at least have one story that's posted on this website that has nothing but positive comments - the opening of both of these stores is awesome!! Believe me, there is plenty enough business in our area for both Home Depot and Lowes to be very successful - and the local hardware stores will remain successful as well -there is absolutely nothing negative about this story, so please don't post at all unless your comments are positive!!

These additional stores can not open soon enough; you fail to mention the smaller national building supply retailer (84) and the regional supplier (Bailey's). My experience with the two big box retailers has been good but requires quite the investment in time to get to Gulfport or Picayune or even Slidell. My experience with 84 has caused me to avoid this retailer forever. A 60 pound can of joint compound was costing less than $11 at either Lowes or HD- $16.98 at 84. Again getting the additional stores will be celebrated in the time savings and hopefully cost benefits too!

I am happy the efforts of the big boxes are helping and if they make money along the way...good for them. The troubling part of this story is that Lowes has buitl their store where it sat twenty feet under water! What kind of development and planning allows for this? We are headed for the same problem all over again.

I don't feel sorry for anybody still living there. A year is enough time to RELOCATE!

It's a shamefull message the government is sending.
If George Bush felt threatened by a massive storm
coming to destroy his ranch in Texas, I bet you would
see what this country's vast resorces, enterprise, and "get it done"attitude could accomplish.

Many people have relocated - but it's not always easy to do so. Some of us have jobs and families here, not to mention mortgages. Damaged homes are worthless if they are not repaired. Land is worthless if it is abandoned. For many people, relocating would mean starting from scratch with a high debt load. And low interest SBA loans are not available to people who relocate.

So save your pity - neither the article nor the responses were asking for it. Most of us who lost homes are building back higher and stronger than what we were. And if a natural disaster hits anywhere else, Mississippi will be first in line to offer assistance.

These people made a choice /decision to live in a below sea level area which is prone to hurricanes... so this makes it the responsibility of the United States pay for loss... what am I missing? Come to New Mexico where you can enjoy the fresh concern of lightening caused forest fires!

To Dennis, from OKC,OK
We do not expect anyone to feel sorry for us. You have to realize this was and is our home, just as your home is in OK. We have always loved our home and will continue to do so and really don't need people like yourself.

We have returned from hurricanes in the past and will
recover from this one. As in the past, it takes time.

If you cannot support us, Please keep your comments to yourself.

Born and raised in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and very proud of it.

T. Ryan, Keep the faith! There is much love and support for you guys from many.

To Dennis in OKC - spare us your negativity and scarasm. It's not wanted here, RELOCATE!

To Dennis from OK. Would you dare say this to all the people in California because of the wild fires or the people in the mid west because of tornadoes or to all the people who live across the US that are in harms way from natural disasters. No one here wants your sympathy, we can fend for ourselves as we have been doing but don't tell us to move because of a natural disaster. You are what is wrong with this county. Putting blame on the suffering instead of being supportive. NONE OF YOUR MONEY, NONE OF YOUR TIME, just a little understanding of what it is to loose everything and trying our best to get back on our feet and then to read trash like you are putting on this web-site. You should be ashamed.

Dennis why don't you relocate out of tornado alley?

Many of the people relocating from the Mississippi coast wanted to leave before the storm hit. They felt they could find happiness, better job, another place to go and find just as many problems as they hoped to leave behind. Don't think the answer is to just relocate.

Debbie from New Mexico writes in to say:

These people made a choice /decision to live in a below sea level area which is prone to hurricanes... so this makes it the responsibility of the United States pay for loss... what am I missing? Come to New Mexico where you can enjoy the fresh concern of lightening caused forest fires!


It has a coastline without levees! It would be a
magical trick for it to be below sea level without

This physics lesson brought to you by a soon-to-be
former Gulf Coast resident.

Free of charge.

Thanks for writing in.

I am thrilled to hear that there are two new hardware stores in town! What a blessing!

Hey Debbie from Albuquerque; what you're missing is the chapter from the geography textbook that states that the Mississippi Gulf Coast is an average of 18 feet ABOVE sea level, and not to be confused with New Orleans which is BELOW sea level, and is no more or less susceptible to being hit by a hurricane any given year than anywhere along the southeastern coast of the US from Brownsville TX to Norfolk VA. But that's okay, Deb, it seems that chapter was missing from a lot of people's geography textbooks; however this does not stop them from feeling sufficiently enlightened to unselfishly offer us the benefits of their vast, flawed wisdom. That's something we can never get enough of, as we dig out of this...flawed wisdom from misinformed sources. Thanks for your input.

My thoughts and prayers are with eveyone in the huricane sticken area. I was down there to assist with fema as a firefighter last August. I could not believe the amount of devistation. Good luck to all in rebuilding. GOD BLESS

Debbie in New Mexico, guess what? Just because we flooded does not mean we are below sea level. Heard of that storm SURGE that hit us? I am 24 feet above sea level and leave 1 mile from the beach. I had 3 feet of water.
Get the facts girl. You want to talk to the average mom and why one stays here than email me! It is not that simple. Also, bet you never been to the south, if so you would understand why we are here, why we have positive attitudes and why we are moving ahead.

Reading the posts from so many people totally uneducated about this area astounds me.This was a freak storm,a natural disaster. The area where the Lowes is building has never been under water before Katrina, maybe some inches back in camille, but it is totally a safe place to build otherwise they would not do it. Should San Franciso have not built anything after the earthquake or New England today because they had freak flash flooding? Of course they should.Because intellegent people saw beyond the disaster.The Coast was booming. The economy was strong and as any economist will tell you storms don't stop that. They may slow it but call on a few of those for sale signs in vacant lots and you will see why there are still there. They are asking a lot of many beacause everyone here knows the investment potential in this area unlike flooded areas in New Orleans. It is a totally different topography and different problems.
Sure there is a risk but that is everywhere and you can't make decisions based on the worst that could happen or you would live your lives in fear.

I have become rather nervous after reading this blog, with people's personal takes on sea level altitudes, real estate investments, and if stores are now capitalizing on a dire situation.
I say, and rather emphatically, kudos to Lowe's and Home Depot. If the government can't get the supplies there, well these guys will, and in a perfect world, the insurance companies will help pay for such supplies.
However, there are things I have read in the blog that put a bit of fear into me, where once there was none. I fear there are many people in this country that share the sentiments of Debbie from New Mexico, but is this really the time to be saying, "oh well. You knew the consequences?" I have lived in many parts of the United States over the course of the years. I was living in Manhattan when 9/11 struck, and I stayed there through 2005. I witnessed first hand how people come together, grieve, remember, and move on. I also spent time in the south, living in about 4-5 different states. I found the people there to be friendly, hard working, and big on lending a hand to their neighbors. This must be a particularly frustrating time for such a culture, for how can you lend a hand to someone else when it is so difficult to help yourself?
While the world's population grows, our weather is changing. It is putting more people along the coastlines for a whole bunch of different reasons, yet there should be no judgement passed on people's choices of where to live and raise their families.
We have all been told through various sources that the earth is entering a rather tumultuous era of wet weather. I personally fear the security of our coastal regions, as we are only at the beginning of this cycle, and I can only hope what we experienced was indeed just a fluke. Unfortunately, part of me believes the government is all too aware of this as well, and therefore has slowed re-building efforts because of the concern that it will get hit again sooner than any of us want.
No doubt, the region will prosper again, and when it does we will all be grateful. I say that, because God forbid, if lightening-induced fires ever strike, and consume the homes and hearts of people who share the views of Debbie of New Mexico, know that the first volunteers to show up at your states' borders will be none other than the people from this southern region. With hammers and nails in tow, they will help rebuild the tattered remains.
The government is a mess. It's always a mess. But since this country was founded, it is the small town populations and city folk that help each other emerge from crisis. That to me is the spirit of America, and that is the very thing we should all be nurturing.

Oh, please stop blaming the government (and Bush) for your problems. It is a tired arguement.Thank goodness for the few enterprising corporations and individuals that realize the risks and rewards from living where they do. My tax dollars do not need to go to flood "victims" fire "victims" etc. Take care of yourself and buy some insurance or build your house on stilts! If it is to much to bear, move inland!

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