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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

Welfare reform has nothing to do with the victims of Katrina and it is intellectually dishonest to link the two. Our national priorities need to be examined. We are fighting a war with a country that had no WMD and no link to Al Quada. We need to look inward, make good choices and push natural disasters to the front page of our government's agenda. We need to elect leaders who are honest and not driven by ego and power. We someone to tell the truth, not "spin" us.

How can Bush justify and request more billions for additional funding for the war in Iraq, which does not appear to be accomplishing any goal, when there are our own like Linda and many more that desperately need assistance?????. I very much agree with the previous comment from Steven that there is no excuse for all of the mishandling and bureaucratic nonsense.

There's no question that Linda and many others are very needy. Katrina was not the cause of her plight, it only brought it into the open. I really object to the portrayal that her situation is somehow the government's fault. It's not. There's no question that Linda and many, many others deserve some help to get back to stability from our rich and caring nation. But the government is not at fault, and probably is not the best equipped to help her.

Why is Bush spending more money on Iraq? Why doesn't he use that money to rebuild the Gulf area? Is anybody paying attention to how ridiculous this administration is?

This is the wealthiest country on the face of the earth and you mean 2 years afterwards, there are still people in dire need? What does that say about our government and our country?

yes, the government should have helped more with this disaster. and they probably would have helped more if we didn't have most of our troops deployed in Iraq at the time. the government can't regulate which way the wind blows. but they can and have kept insurgents out of our country for the past six years. people need to take responsibilty for where they choose to live and stop blaming our government for their Katrina problems.

In the news today "Bush seeks $50 Billion more for Iraq". How much would it cost to help those displaced by Katrina? I doubt it would cost $50 Billion!! Shame on our government and shame on us for putting them in office!!!
Footnote to Mike Stuckey - Please, please, please stop calling these American citizens refugees!! It made me sick to hear it two years ago and it still sickens me!!

Your story on Linda Addison is truly heartbraking. Fighting big government is an unhill battle and we all know it. I am wondering why people like Linda are not moving to other states that can provide Hud housing?
I think what happened to New Orleans is an example of what will happen in the further. When the Big One hits California or the terrorist hit the United States or the continuing weather extremes revage cities, who will help then. Even though the money is assigned it never reaches the people who need the help. To much red tape in the Welfare dept and Government.
We need to sit up and take notice and get prepared for what could happen. My prayers continue to go out to the people in New Orleans.


Linda is the exception not the rule. Most of the people in the FEMA trailers able bodies. They can get jobs. There are good jobs everywhere in New Orleans for people who want to work. They were paying rent before, now they are staying for free. They have on incentive to leave. Start charging them rent for the trailers and see how they empty out fast.

People like Linda Addison are truly the people who should be helped. It's unbelievable to think of how slow our government works. Again, we should all be thankful we get any help from our government. It is hard to look at the news at night and realize there are still people who are living in trailers, and even more people now who could barely support themselves before the storm, now homeless, really have no affordable place to live.

It is a shame what this poor lady is going through just to survive. If this was one of the Washingto DC polliticians they would not be having this problem, if this country would take care of the people in this country first and if there was any money left over, then it would be appropiate to send the billons of dollars out of the country to help and aid other countries.

Why do the FEMA parks have to close? Why can't they just give them to these people, especially if they cannot obtain affordable housing or otherwise qualify for other help. The parks should not close at least until affordable housing becomes available again, even if it is years away. The cost of these parks and the trailer are chump change to the taxpayers anyway.

Linda is only one out of thousands of victims who have been traumatized and is in a predicament, in which our government needs to do more to help Linda and the other victims of hurricane Katrina. The funding has to come from somewhere. These people need help NOW not LATER.

Dawn Jade

every state in the country is in hard times will the men behind the war are filling there pocket with money I just wish I could find out how much mare money BUSH and his pals are making on this war every man that comes back from this war is money in there pockets that's why they want it to go on this is my opinion

Big E. You are so heartless!! As long as we have people thinking the way you do, nothing will get better in this country and people will keep suffering. You are a disgrace!

While Bush is waiting on approval for 50 Billion dollars for Irag. Why don't we give that money to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and not to a senseless WAR

Presedent Bush, is about to ask for another 50 Billion to the war in Iraq...Our Gov. needs to help its own first. If there is funding left, then do what we can to help others. Everything is out of order. How can any positve outcome be expected. At home or abroad.....E.

Predictions have been made that the victims of Katrina will be forgotten about in two years.Maybe truth does lie somewhere. Its just letting you know
that we need to think things more throughly and come to a conclusion that we need to help people that need it more than people that already have it.

This is a travesty. Our President (who I voted for)is asking for another 50 billion for the war in Iraq. Tell me, what other country in the world would spend money on another country before their own. We should take that money and hire people in the building industry (who need the work)to go down and just rebuild the area.

I am just blown away about this story.Linda Addison needs help now no more red tape.Linda I will pray for you. We need to take care of home.

my house burned down 2 months ago from lightning strike in bad storm. my husband and i and 5 pets lived in a hotel cramped with nothing for a while. i then was let go from my job just 3 weeks ago. i read the story and want to help this lady and others who are much worse off than me. i think these people are being ignored like garbage on the street. my prayers are with them all.noone should be treated so cruelly!!!!!

Yeah, I agree with Raz. I mean what's the chance that the terrorists will sneak in a light off a nuke in Los Angeles or New York anyways. Send the money they are spending in Iraq to fix our woes at home. Help fix a system that we as a people have raped, pillaged, and plunder for over 200 years. Why were doing that why don't we raise taxes to over 50% like all of the European Countries, and give more of our money to the government and our elected officials to spend. PLEASE..... People like Linda Addison are where they are at cause they rely on the government. Pack your bags and MOVE. If global warming is occurring, there stands a chance that Katrina will happen again, and better yet the ocean may rise what 50 feet which will cover most of Miss. and Louisiana. If global warming is occurring I suggest the billion people that live on the waterfront to start packing cause the government will be to busy trying to save there own rear-ends.

TAKE THE ADDTL 30 BILLION BUSH WANTS FOR IRAQ AND SPREAD IT OUT OVER THE POOR FOLKS FROM KATRINA AND THE FLOODS THAT ARE GOING ON ALL OVER OUR COUNTRY. HIRE SOMEONE WITH A LITTLE SMARTS THAT CAN CONTROL WHO GETS THE HELP AND NOT SOME JERK SITTING ON HIS/HER BACKSIDE IN SOME STATE THAT NEVER HAD A PROBLEM AND IS RIPPING OFF OUR GOVT AND THE FOLKS THAT NEED THE HELP...

I really feel for people like Ms. Addison. The US Government should assist her due to the disability. However, the US Government is not responsible for carrying the load for everyone affected by Katrina.
What happend to "individual responsibility". I have Homeowners insurance, Savings, and a Disaster plan.

People in this country need to step up and stop blaming the "gov't" for everything to include natural disasters and lack of support.

Responsibility should start with the individual; and what about the city, state responsibilty - they haven't done squat!!!! As for Mayor Nagan, he has done nothing but blame every level except for his own.

Life is about being responsible and preplanning. If you don't do that yourself, how can you blame the government!

I understand it has not been easy for many of the victims, but there is no reason they could not be on their feet after 2 years. Find a job, if you are disabled you get Social security, go get a new apartment somewhere else. I feel for the victims of Katrina but honestly if after 2 years u cant get yourself out of that situation the only ones to blame are the people. The city and state should be held more responsible for lack of development and help then the federal government. We all like to blame others, but in the end there are 1000's of places these people could have gone to start over.

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