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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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Ferns hang on the porch of Mary Perkins' new home. Photo courtesy of Mary Perkins


As I sit here thinking about the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I am watching Hurricane Dean moving toward the Yucatan and Mexico. But it could have been here that Dean decided to visit. And we are sure glad he didn't, because we are not quite ready for another one yet.

So, how are things after two years? Well, some things are much better. Two lanes of our bridge opened in May, and it was a very emotional experience. There was a special program at the foot of the bridge on our side, then dignitaries went to the top of the bridge and tied a ribbon symbolically joining the two cities together. Then we had a celebration at the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club. More than 5,000 people attended, drank beer, ate food and visited the more than 150 booths showing local wares. Since the opening, I am now able to travel to Long Beach to the Winn-Dixie Grocery Store in 20 minutes, instead of the 45 it used to take. For me, it boosted my attitude a little more.

I am currently serving on the Hancock County Comprehensive Plan advisory board and the Bay St. Louis Historic Preservation Commission. I am dedicated to assuring that Bay St. Louis can retain some of the few historic buildings left and preserve our heritage.

The library system, http://www.hancocklibraries.info, is also moving right along. We have received two trailers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to use as temporary libraries in Waveland and Pearlington. We have also received enough funding to rebuild the Waveland Library and should be breaking ground in the next couple months.

WANTED: Anyone who wants to come to Bay St. Louis and open a grocery store. We still only have Wal-Mart and need a real grocery store. The Chamber of Commerce has a $740,000 interest free, 10-year loan for anyone who might be interested in expanding their horizons and coming here to help us out by opening a grocery store. There are more than 11,000 vehicles crossing the Bay bridge every day now, and we know the business is here. So, go out on a limb and expand your business to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi!!

A great many businesses have come back and opened. We now have a Lowe's, a Home Depot, Kmart and many others. The main crisis here, other than rebuilding homes, is the insurance problem. People cannot get coverage on their homes because the premiums are outrageous or they think they are in a flood zone (FEMA will not publish the final Flood Advisory Elevations until next year). Businesses have seen as much as 640 percent increases in their premiums. U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor is now fighting for HR 3121, a bill that would provide multi-peril insurance sort of like flood insurance and for the whole country. So, everyone needs to let their U.S. representatives and senators that they are in favor of this bill should visit this Web site or Congressman Taylor's home page. With more than 53 percent of Americans living in coastal counties, this issue affects most Americans.

As for me personally, I have been in my house since December. I am still hanging pictures, rearranging closets and cabinets, but I am in. I have completed landscaping and am very pleased. The puppy dog, Pokie, and the cat, Freeway, are very happy and also settled in. Never in my life have I ever had a dishwasher, a garbage disposal and a utility room that has a washer and dryer (mine were the stackable kind). So these little things make a world of difference to me. And the backyard is fenced, It is just wonderful. I have included a photo, so you can see the ferns hanging on either side of the porch.

So, my last words to you would be - - please do not forget us. There are so many who still need help, who need volunteers to assist them in rebuilding their homes. We are a long way from being whole again. Yes, all these things help, but there is so much left to do. As you ride down the beach road, there are only 16 homes left. Sure, there are a few building back on the beach, but I hear their insurance premiums are like $28,000 a year.

So, thank you for all you have done, but do not forget us.

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19 COMMENTS

I recently returned from the Yucatan in Mexico where we waited out Hurricane Dean in the old Colonial town of Merida. I could not believe what a great job the Mexicans did in preparing for this storm! There were soldiers everywhere, making sure that people were evacuated and cared for. We saw them drive through Progresso with bullhorns letting people know the current level of threat and the evacuation plan. We were told that no one would be able to leave Merida during the storm. No bars or restaurants were allowed to serve alcohol for 24 hours, nor could any store sell it. Convenience stores were open with plenty of extra food and water for sale - not marked up - the entire time. We were told that the town would turn off the power to save the power grid during the storm. Our rental car was parked in a lot with gates and these were locked with a chain and padlock the day of the storm. We heard that 70,000 people were evacuated without any injuries or problems. In the end, the storm passed just below us but, at no time, did we feel that things were out of control. The Mexican people kept assuring us that there was nothing to worry about, they had been through this before. Their president was on the television expressing his concern for the Mayan people who were the most defenseless against this storm and reminding viewers not to forget about their Mayan neighbors. We saw many public works of art carefully covered in bubble wrap and watched on television as they cut branches and removed debris that could damage the irreplaceable Mayan ruins. Why couldn't the U.S. government have done this good a job in New Orleans?

I think it would be interesting to see how Mexico handled hurricances before Katrina. Is there a chance that they handled it so well because they learned from our mistakes? I don't know the answer to my own question, it was just a thought. As far as I know New Orleans, and the Federal government, had never seen a hurricane-caused disaster the size of Katrina before 2005. Is it realistic to expect the local, state and federal government to handle the disaster perfectly the first time around? I am not making excuses for the government, yes it should have been handled better, however I think the judgement is a little harsh sometimes.

Was Katrina our government's first hurricane? Not on your life. There have been dozens over the years and they screw up the aid every time (think Andrew).
The bureaucrats must go. They are the problem with their lifetime tenure. Our form of government truly needs help.

Enjoyed your new post! I hadn't forgotten about you--not having seen any posts from you in some time I'd been wondering about how you, Pokie and Freeway are doing! And thanks for the pic of your house--it looks so charming and homey, and the ferns are gorgeous! I'm glad to hear with the bridge now being open your trip to the grocery store is much shorter, and hope someone opens one up in Bay St. Louis soon. And that's good news about the library system ciming along. Sorry to hear so many are having trouble getting insurance, though--I hope there's a way that can be resolved.

While of course it was sad for those it affected in Jamaica, Mexico, etc., I was very relieved last week when Dean passed Mississippi by. According to what I've heard on the Weather Channel these past few days since Dean the tropics have been quiet even though this is usually a bad time of the year for storms. I hope and pray this year's hurricane season turns out to be as quiet as was last year's, which was a welcome gift--a respite which gave people time to rebuild and recover. You clearly need much more time for everything else that's left to do.

Hang in there--as long as people in your area are struggling to recover and become whole, I'll never forget you. And God bless those who are still volunteering. Wish I were able myself to come down and volunteer--but since I'm physically and financially too fragile to do so, the best I can do is offer my moral support and cheer you on from afar. Take care and God bless.

For all the Mexican people lack on thing for sure is that they do not lack common sense! Oh, and they don't have a groege Bush either, lol!

Why should American taxpayers have to foot the bill for future insurance claims? It's time we let the flood prone areas remain open and natural and free of condos, homes and stores. There is plenty of high ground for people to build and live. There will be more Katrina's and it makes no sense to build buildings in the face of the storm.

Thank you for the farewell message, Mary. Wow - two years. Best of luck to you and all of you and you all. Would that be "all of y'all"? Love the ferns!

do not build in flood areas. Keep the beaches and river borders free for all to use.

I wasn't in a flood area and Katrina kicked our butts. I lost alot. So, should the same "don't build in flood areas" apply to California? I mean there are still houses, buildings, etc. and Cailfornia has earthquakes and fault lines etc. ??

jd if we, all 53% of us, moved to high ground what would happen to the protected lands that you call high ground. No matter where you live nature can reach out and touch you. We all share the burden. After all that has been done for us here I will not forget. I only hope I and everyone here on the Gulf Coast can some day repay the favors that have been bestowed on us. Mary I see you running around town. Glad you are settled in and doing well. At the risk of making a cheap pitch for my website you can see photos of the recovery as well as before and after shots on my website at www.wilkersonphotography.com I try to keep it updated regularly so everyone that has been here helping can see the progress, and so others can remember what we had here and will have again.

jd, you know I am footing the bill for the people in the Midwest who for the past several weeks have had flooding. Most of them had no flood insurance and one lady said she now knew how people in Katrina felt - - everything was ruined. That is why we desperately need the multiperil insurance that Congressman Gene Taylor is trying to get passed. It would cover all of us, whether it is floods, tonradoes, land slides in California or what. So it does not really matter where you live.

Gee, I guess that it's OK for people in California to build on earthquake effected, landslide prone areas. It's OK to build thousands of homes in wildfire prone areas. No environmental impact there! I live in the midwest, which has all kinds of weather, tornadoes, high winds, flash floods, major floods, ice storms & even earthquake prone areas. There are not enough underground hilltop houses to go around. It's a little too late to start telling people where and where they can't live generations after they have been established in an area.

Whether it is winds, water, fire, cold, or earth-movement: it is going to effect someone, somewhere. Someone is going to need help somewhere. The Multiperil Insurance is a great idea. But we also need a better understanding of where we build and how we build. Poorly built or inapproprately designed homes and businesses in certain envionmental areas are only part of the problem. The solution lies with the cooperation of private individuals/local political entities/ business/ industry/ environmental protection groups / and the federal government. Until that happens, we will be seeing more of the same disaster problems, either on the gulf coast, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, California, just to name a feww from this year.

Keep the good people of the gulf coast in your thoughts and prayers. They are working long hard hours to make a sucessfull return from this devastation. Give or volunteer what you can, if you can. And, support the Multiperil Ins, plan. You just might need it too, where-ever you are.

Yes it does matter where people live. There a many place in the U.S. where floods don't happen. After the big Mississippi floods in the 90's, the U.S. bought flooded land and forbid construction. Now they will never have to pay for rebuilding homes again. This only makes sense. The same should happen in the Gulf, don't allow construction in areas that WILL get hit by Hurricanes again.

Mexico's government isn't known for doing much, but at least it has its priorities in order. I'm not surprised at how it handled a hurricane on its own shores, given that people after Katrina were given their first drinking water by the Mexican Navy before the U.S. government was even close to showing up.

Also, as to what brigitte posted, people aren't supposed to live in deserts either. (They don't call it Palm Desert for nothing.) But that doesn't stop the government from pumping water there even while there is a shortage where the water is pumped from.

I agree with jd about insurance though. If an insurance company isn't willing to offer it, either you get property somewhere else or you take your chances. That would also make the land a fair price. Unless maybe the government can find a way to offer insurance that results in a profit.

However, the other post is all wrong. It's not the government's job to forbid construction anywhere. The area that WILL get hit by hurricanes stretches from the Texas/Mexico border to Miami and up to North Carolina. No one can live in any of those places? Hurricanes can also inflict damage several states inland. I guess we also can't have people living in areas that will get hit by tornadoes or earthquakes either. That doesn't leave much, and where will we get our food?

The people making comments about not rebuilding don't know one darn thing about it! I sure with they could come up with a better plan than JUST DON'T REBUILD. Do they know how far and wide this hurricane hit people? OK, so I guess the wise ones can find jobs and houses for all these people they don't think should build back in the areas hit by ANYTHING (and think of what all that covers). Please see the big picture.

Mary, it is so great to hear that you, Pokie and Freeway are settling into your beautiful new home. (I've been checking the site every so often to see if there have been new posts. I'm glad to hear things are going as so well!) I think back 2 years of my life and realize how much has happened to me. It still blows my mind that all that time can pass and Waveland continues to struggle to get on its feet. Amazing how exciting a bridge opening can be!

Thank you for sharing the information on insurance reform. I wouldn't have known about it any other way.

I am not in a position to come and open a grocery store, but I'm sure that someone will see this and take you up on your offer.

I wish you and your furry family all the best, Mary. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

What about all of the fires in California??? They have happened before, and likley to happen again? Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, we are all at risk.

To Bridgette:
re:do not build in flood areas. Keep the beaches and river borders free for all to use

I'll remember this when CA has its next wave of forest fires/landslides/earthquakes. We live where we live. Do you not think that Greensburg, KS should rebuild? Or anywhere else disaster strikes?
Remember, we live on NATURE'S planet. We have to deal with whatever she hands us.
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