WAVELAND, Miss. – In the place they consider heaven on Earth, Hancock County residents gathered in the hellish heat Wednesday morning to mark the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“It is certainly a joy right now to be worried about sweating and not swimming,” joked Brian McDonald, director of the Mississippi Office for Rebuilding and Renewal. Swimming – for their lives – was precisely what many of the 100 or so citizens who attended the ceremony at the beachfront Veterans’ Memorial in Waveland were doing at that moment in 2005 as Katrina’s flood surge rolled ashore.
The Waveland gathering was one of several events scheduled for Wednesday’s anniversary, from sunrise church services, to an afternoon visit by President Bush and the first lady, to an evening Chamber of Commerce gala.
McDonald’s bit of humor was fitting for the upbeat, homespun Waveland ceremony. Mayor Tommy Longo, who presided, heaped praise for recovery efforts on his fellow elected officials, the area’s emergency workers, volunteers and the “strong, resilient, self-reliant, caring people” of Hancock County.
“The world saw a true Mississippi as it had never been seen before and it’s because of each and every one of you,” Longo told the sweat-stained crowd, suit jackets and sports coats long removed, as they gulped cans and bottles of water, fanned themselves with their programs and sought any bit of shade they could find on the barren bulkhead overlooking the Mississippi Gulf.
The ceremony featured prayers and readings from a trio of local pastors. The names of the 57 county residents who perished in the storm were read by Longo, Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre and county Board of Supervisors President Rocky Pullman. A wreath was placed in the gulf. A moment of silence was followed by the barely audible sounding, from far across town, of Waveland’s restored emergency siren.
As the crowd joined in to sing “God Bless America,” a score of colorful balloons was released to float gently out of view against the brilliant blue Mississippi sky and a passing cloud bank.
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