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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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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- Life has hung Linda Addison out to dry like the torn and twisted pieces of fabric still snagged in the high branches of the oak trees here, two years after they were carried aloft by Katrina’s howling winds.

In a 250-square-foot plain white box amid rows of identical FEMA trailers on a bare gravel lot on the western edge of this rebuilding town, Linda sits and quietly tells her story.

Listen carefully because Linda’s pitiful predicament is shared in one way or another by thousands of hurricane refugees who are still living in FEMA trailers without the resources to regain the small shreds of independence they enjoyed before the storm. While a million volunteers and billions in grant money flow to many residents who owned property before the storm and the booming recovery economy blesses others with new fortunes, Linda and those like her are being left in the dust.

“It’s a very sad situation,” says Reilly Morse, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice. “It’s one of 17,000 or 18,000 tales of woe out there.”

In the summer of 2005, Linda and her poodle Trixie were happily keeping house in a one-bedroom apartment a few miles away in neighboring Waveland. Her $643 monthly Social Security disability check was just enough for her to pay the $109 a month rent on her federally subsidized place, keep an old car running and indulge in her only vice: Coca-Cola.

By some standards, it wasn’t much of a life, but it was hers. She could get to church when she wanted, take a few ceramics classes at the senior center and host grandson Dustin, 11, and granddaughter Hannah, 5, the children of her only child, on weekend visits from Gulfport. She could look forward instead of backward on three marriages that had twice left her a widow – the first time when she was just 22 -- and once a divorcee, and on a lifetime of toil in the retail sector in which “I sold everything but fast food and my body” before winding up disabled in 2002 at age 60 with spine, hip, thyroid and blood-pressure problems.

Then came Katrina. She fled to Bogalusa, La., with a neighbor and returned to find that water had filled her ground-floor unit to the rafters. “When we tried to open the door, honey, my couch was in front of the door, the refrigerator on its side,” Linda recalls in her soft, lilting voice.

Looters add to storm's toll

The horror mounted. Within days, looters had taken everything of value from her apartment except “a few pictures and my Bibles.” She found space to live in a tent in Clermont Harbor, west of town. Night after night, she struggled to sleep in the stifling summer air, kept awake by the screams of what she thought was a lost or injured cat. It was a woman, trapped in the debris, later rescued.

By March, Linda had found some stability, moving in with her only sibling, a younger brother, and his wife, in Oakridge, Tenn. One night as they watched television, her brother clutched his chest and died. “I’ll never forget it,” she says, choking with tears. “I held his little face up and his wife called 911. As far as we knew, he didn’t have heart trouble.” Jim Jones was 47.

When FEMA found her a trailer later in the spring of 2006, she moved back to Hancock County, which is where she now awaits word on permanent housing. There is no public or subsidized housing available, most of it destroyed by the storm, programs to replace it barely in the planning stages. Market-rate rentals are cruelly beyond her reach.

She has heard of several possibilities from FEMA representatives, all of them daunting. “What scares me is they’re saying they’re going to put us up at the end of Highway 603 in Picayune,” she says. With gas as high as it is, she wonders how she could afford to drive back to see her doctor, whose office is across the street from the park she lives in now. Also, she hears that drugs, prostitution and other crime, problems where she lives now, are worse at the Picayune park.

Mainly, it’s the uncertainty that plagues her. Its surroundings aside, the trailer, cool and comfortable on a hot August morning, with its handicapped entry ramp, is working out well for her and Trixie. But what’s next? And when?

“Two people could call FEMA and ask five people the same question and they’d get 10 different answers,” says Linda. “I’m really afraid of the next day. People talk about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t see the tunnel.”

A FEMA representative took Addision’s name from MSNBC.com and agreed to seek some answers about her case and the general fate of those like her, but did not call back. On the agency’s Web site, a recent entry explains that FEMA will be handing off cases like Linda’s to the Department of Housing and Urban Development as of Nov. 1.

'She's out of luck'

Attorney Morse fears some people will get lost in that shuffle. “She’s out of luck. She’s the lowest priority and every program that is out there is at least six to 12 months away,” Morse says. “What’s going to happen with these folks is anyone’s guess. I don’t think it’s alarmist at all to say people could become homeless.”

Local Habitat for Humanity Project Manager Wendy McDonald, who brought Linda’s plight to MSNBC.com’s attention, also has no solution. Linda’s income is way too low to qualify her for the sweat-equity home-building program. “Even if I gave her a home, she could not afford the insurance,” says McDonald, who was able to get a volunteer advocate working on Linda’s behalf.

That advocate, Mick Quinlan, is looking at FEMA’s “Mississippi Cottage” program, which places trailer occupants into more permanent housing for another two years, but the program selects participants at random.

Linda is a proud woman who is not going to dwell on just how poor she is, but you do the math: $643 a month is $148.38 a week, not even two-thirds of the federal minimum wage for a full-time worker and well below half the minimum wage in many states. It’s $7,716 a year, hopelessly beneath the federal poverty level of $10,210 for a single person.

While you’re at it, consider these price tags of irony that surround Linda as the recovery steams forward for others. Across the street, a liquor store sells bottles of wine that cost more than what she lives on for a week. Within a few hundred yards of where Linda’s trailer sits, pleasure boats are being sold for well more than 10 times her annual income. A mile away as the crow flies, multimillion dollar mansions are rising, Phoenix-like, on Beach Boulevard.

And as appalling and sad as it is, you probably won’t be surprised that, for Linda, it adds up to this: “Sometimes I wish I had stayed here for the storm and then it would all be over.”

If you would like to help Linda Addison, checks made out to "Benefit of Linda Addison" may be mailed to Hancock Bank, 601 Highway 90, Bay St. Louis, Miss., 39520, or taken to any branch of the bank in person. Other offers of help may be made through the Bay St. Louis office of Habitat for Humanity at 228-467-9699.

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230 COMMENTS

Too much being spent on the WAR ON TERROR!! Gov should spend money on there own people & cities!!!!!!

Every city in the US is a disaster waiting to happen. We as a people are very generous and caring and want to see every person helped who needs it. Yet somehow our wishes and concerns seem to be transformed into something else by our government's handling of evey disaster. There simply is no excuse for any of the mishandling of victum's of this Hurricane.
We are becoming what we have termed a "third world country"
We are like Samson of Bible fame, filled with power yet too imature and self indulged to properly know how to use it.
Judgement is here. We as a people must humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. Maybe yet God will postpone our fate.

Wow, Linda Addison is truly one of the needy in this nation. And, like most of the other truly needy people, her condition has been tainted by those who do NOT need. The Welfare Divas in this country have sucked all resources, physical and emotional, dry. Leaving people like Ms. Addison without much option.

Time for welfare reform, Katrina has taught us at least that much, no?

The answer to Ms. Lynne's question - No.

The lack of response and aid to the victims of this terrible natural disaster has nothing to do with the welfare program or its so called divas. But it does seem to have a great deal to do with the government on every level that appears to be either inept or in some cases actually harmful, e.g. the FEMA trailers that have been shown to contain noxious levels of formaldehyde. We must do better and we can with the right leadership.

I know Ms. Addison is legally disabled, but couldn't she get a simple minimum wage job (example, a cashier at a dealership, a store greeter?) that would greatly improve her lifestyle and give her independence?

It's not about the War on Terror. Welfare Divas are not sucking our resources dry. And no, the world is not about to end. Linda's story is, however, a powerful reminder that meeting people's needs is more about personal relationships than resources. With all its resources, no government agency can do what millions of mobilized people can do; people who are organized by private charitable groups that are infinitely better suited to take care of good folks like Linda than an impersonal government bureaucracy. If the President called upon all such groups and the American people to pull together, while the government gets out of the way, this crisis would end by Christmas. The government has "800" numbers, sterile trailers, and promised money that never comes. Individual caring Americans have hands and hearts and, together, the few billion dollars yet needed to get these needs met.

This is a sad state of affairs our government has truly left people in need down

I wonder how much government help the casinos got. hmm
Where are our priorities?

I GUESS ALL THE MONEY THAT WAS DONATED TO THE RED CROSS, THE UNITED WAY, AND ALL THE MONIES DONATED FROM TAINERS THAT MONEY WENT TO HELP BUSINESSESS AND THE WORKING POOR BARELY SAW A DIME. THAT IS WHY I WOULD RATHER GIVE IT TO THEM PERSONALLY, SHAME ON THESE NOT FOR PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS.

WE can't save everybody. We can't give all of our money to the thousands who are needy. It just can't be done.
Immigration, the poor, the homeless has always been with us throughout history. WE couldn't do anything about it then and there is nothing we can really do about it now.
I don't see how we can ever change things. No use in asking GOD to do anything, his answer in the past is to start over. Sorry to say this, but it's true.

I feel for her, yet I applaud her patience. At least she is not on TV saying that if FEMA doesn't help her soon, she is going to have to turn to a life of crime. I am going to pray for Ms. Addison and all others in her situation.

Maybe all the rich and famous people who dashed to Katrina where-ever there was a camera splashing out millions of dollars worth of goods should have a look at the little people and try to do something without making a big noise to help!!!

It took a complete disaster of a major city to unveal 'reality'. If your not a home-owner, 70% of the nation is, then you are lower than a citizen in most cases. You arn't 'contributing' to the system and you don't have a leg to stand on in most situations. Even most home-owners don't have much to work with post-Katrina due to insurance companies giving the "Chicken and the Egg" complaint, was it the flood water or the hurricane that damaged your home? Do you have both insurance policies?

We're a service based economy, producing and manufacturing little. Not many poeple who own a home work in restuarants, fast food, ect. They rent. And if you don't give them a place to stay.. your going to find that many of these jobs will not re-open since there are no workers to fill them.

I agree with Raz. So much money the government can spit our on new tanks, jets, attack helicopters and bombs, but they can´t built 1 bedroom aparments to place these people in. I mean they don´t need mansions liek the ones being built but at least a modest $200 a month rent would be fine. But, oh well, what can we do? This is the same government the people voted for, so we have to wait till the next president comes along and see what he does or thinks. Hope that he is not oil and money hungry!

I was in New Orleans 2 weeks ago volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in St. Bernard Parish. I saw the FEMA trailer parks and the FEMA trailers parked in front of every other house on the streets. It's truly sad that we live in a country that can send monies and supplies to other countries but can't take care of the people here. It's insane to me that anyone in the United States of America need worry about food or shelter when we don't think twice about building new malls, government buildings, gas stations, or upscale condos. There is no place for the have and have nots here anymore. If you got it, give some to people who need it. Written on the wall of the volunteer base camp Camp Hope was written "Live simply so others can simply live". Word.

I simply do not understand why the billionaires and millionaires of this great United States Of America, can't form their own organization that does not sift through the government, federal or state, and see to it that their funds help people like Linda Addison who is absolutely destitute.

If I had that kind of bankroll, I couldn't enjoy, with a clear consicous, a big screen plazma TV, iphone, or big luxury cars, and the residence that holds all this, when a large financial gift wouldn't hardly be noticed on my monthly bank statement.

My wife and I help as we can on our meager fixed income now that we are retired. But I lay awake at nights thinking what could be done for all the vitims of Katrina and other situations if everyone, espcially those who are blessed with so much would do more. And like I mentioned, don't let it go through the government.

I am not sure where FEMA's role should end. I thought they came in for the initial disaster and helped until people found other resources. I did not think they took on the role of caretaker forever for the people. I would think 2 years would be enough time for people to find other places to live or soruces of aid. I will assure you if my house burns down, is swept away or blown away, I will be finding my own place to live. If an apartment is destroyed, the Red Cross helps out for the moment but then people must find other homes. I agree this is a terrible plight for the people, but where does our role end?

America has lost her conscience. All the Wall St. and Washington fat cats and their friends chase the almighty dollar and their personal wealth and conveni-enience. None of them give a damn about this great country, the USA, the dire condition we are in, or the ever-accelerating pace at which we are becoming a third-world disaster. God help us and bless this great country.

California could have a 9pt earthquake tomorrow, the Mississippi could flood, hurricanes could hit like in 04 and 05, disasters happen. The US bounces back better than ANY other nation. Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras back in 1998 and the estitmate is that it will take 40+ years to recover...40 years! Sure people in the US may be living in FEMA trailers yet they have electricity,clean water, federal relief. It could be worse.

I have never been more moved! I can't even offer help, but there seems that in America, something could be done, not just to assist her but to REALLY HELP HER, and others.

I agree with Deborah, if it wasnt for all of the people who abuse our welfare system and put a drain on those of us that work hard and pay our taxes, things would be better. I hope as Deborah has pointed out that Katrina has taught us that we really need to have welfare reform in this country not higher taxes.

This lady is in dire need of help but there are thousands of people ALREADY homeless who need Help more help... think about them first.

What a disgrace for America!!! Billions and billions poured into other countries to "help people"....and still two years later our own American victims are getting nothing; worse, they are being discarded as not important!!!

This is one result of a growing reliance upon a national "global" government to provide for the individual. The money, and thus the power, needs to reside with the states where decisions can be made on a more local level.

I wisth they would stop using the word "refugee". This word is very demeaning and derogoatory to the victims in this disaster. Refugee= a person seeking refuge in a foreign country out of fear of political persecution or the prospect of such persecution in his home country, i.e., a person seeking a political asylum

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