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

Touching up the talons

Posted: Friday, July 28 at 05:54 pm CT by

WAVELAND, Miss. — Shall it be the French manicure or standard today? A tanning bed bronze or air-brushed brown?

These services may be frivolous, but a bit of frivolity goes a long way when you do without life’s little comforts as long as people have in these Gulf Coast towns pulverized by Hurricane Katrina. And the revivals of businesses that offer them signal the slow shift back to civilization from survival.

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Pawning goodies, buying tools

Posted: Friday, July 28 at 03:35 pm CT by

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- Like nearly every business in the Katrina zone, Best Pawn has its tale of horror, starting with the flooding from the hurricane’s tidal surge. Five defunct cars still sit in the parking lot, a reminder of the heavy losses suffered here. But the business has been revived, and in that effort there is a tale that reflects the larger story of devastation and recovery.

Initially, there was the water that roared over Highway 90, nearly 2 miles from the waterfront, destroying most of the businesses on the commercial strip. When the flooding subsided, in the early hours and days of chaos, the store was prey to looters -- driven by greed or fear -- primarily after one thing: guns.

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I'm blessed, I'm blessed, I'm blessed!

Posted: Friday, July 28 at 02:56 pm CT by

060727_blog_perkins

Volunteers organized by the Lagniappe Presbyterian Church framed and sheetrocked Mary Perkins' rapidly rising house. Courtesy of Mary Perkins.


I have been blessed!!

It seems the Baptist group could not help me build my house, so I called someone I knew at the Lagniappe Presbyterian Church. Lagniappe Church has come here to assist people with rebuilding, etc. The person I called is the son of a woman I have known since childhood. He has come home to help in his hometown. What a wonderful thing!!

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Hail the building inspector

Posted: Friday, July 28 at 12:38 pm CT by

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — He’s aggravating, infuriating, loud and intimidating, by nearly all accounts. And, as Bay St. Louis tries to get back on its feet, he’s arguably the most powerful person in town. Meet Bill Carrigee, chief building inspector.

Few dispute that Carrigee knows his business. He’s been working in the building department here for more than 13 years, and in the construction business for 30. He is sought out by other departments in the state to interpret building code and teach classes on the subject.

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Life throws plans for a loop

Posted: Thursday, July 27 at 01:14 pm CT by

My mother always said that life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.

I guess no other thought better sums up this summer for us. We were all set to rebuild in Waveland. At least that's what we thought, but then things can change pretty quickly. After a long string of events, we found ourselves in an entirely different position, and so now, I write this to you from the kitchen of our new house in Bay St. Louis.

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Dueling over dead pines

Posted: Wednesday, July 26 at 10:29 pm CT by

Sprawling stands of pine trees used to help shield this part of the Gulf Coast from the wind. Now acres and acres of them are dead — or certainly appear to be — and locals are looking nervously over their shoulders. The fear is that another strong hurricane will turn the dead trees into missiles. And even now, amid drought, they pose a fire hazard.

As with many problems blamed on Hurricane Katrina, the pine trees are at the center of a debate: Is the federal government responsible for removing these potential hazards? And if not, can the local government find the money to pay for it?

“There are consequences if they don’t do something,” says Gwen Smith, director of the Hancock County extension of Mississippi State University. “It could be another disaster on top of the disaster we’re already had.”

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Housing's halting recovery

Posted: Wednesday, July 26 at 03:19 pm CT by

WAVELAND, Miss. — Home ownership on the Gulf Coast was not really in the cards for Carol and Michael Cupp before Hurricane Katrina, but a decent standard of living was within reach.

They had moved to Waveland from Gulfport, Miss. to be near his job at Sam’s Automotive here, and were staying in a cheap motel while looking for a permanent place. At the time, his $10 an hour pay and her disability check — about $500 a month — were enough to rent an apartment. And that was what they were planning when the monster storm came through, and wiped out most of the area’s affordable housing.

Today, while large apartment complexes in Waveland stand empty — some gutted or in other stages of disrepair — there is an acute shortage of low-cost housing. The Cupps compete with other working class residents as well as a mob of contractors in the area for what little remains.


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Race for the building bonanza

Posted: Monday, July 24 at 09:02 pm CT by

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.

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FEMA trailers 'toxic tin cans'?

Posted: Sunday, July 23 at 11:05 pm CT by

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- For nearly a year now, the ubiquitous FEMA trailer has sheltered tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. But there is growing concern that even as it staved off the elements, it was exposing its inhabitants to a toxic gas that could pose both immediate and long-term health risks.

The gas is formaldehyde, the airborne form of a chemical used in a wide variety of products, including composite wood and plywood panels in the thousands of travel trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchased after Katrina to house hurricane victims. It also is considered a human carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Volunteers catalog misery

Posted: Sunday, July 23 at 11:03 pm CT by

WAVELAND, Miss. -- On a sweltering weekday, Nicole Page and Mark Gonzales look strikingly fresh against the ragged backdrop of hurricane recovery. Dressed in matching grey tee-shirts and khaki shorts, the AmeriCorps volunteers move door to door in a Waveland neighborhood, stirring up dust and stray dogs along the way.

The task at hand is exhaustive and exhausting – to detail ongoing problems in every household in Hancock County following Hurricane Katrina -- everything from hazardous mold or failed air conditioning in FEMA trailers to psychological problems left by the storm. The most urgent needs will be the first assigned to case workers.

“It’s a strenuous task,” says Hancock County volunteer and donor coordinator Joseph L. Williams. But AmeriCorps volunteers are his ace in the hole. The volunteers are young, energetic, idealistic, and most important, flexible. “Flexibility is the key thing we needed,” he says.

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