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Six Years After Katrina, Mississippi Gulf Coast Still Working To Change Rubble To Resilience

By Rhonda Miller | Published 28 Aug 2011 09:33pm | comments
The Waveland Business Incubator is a visionary project intended to bring commerce back to Coleman Avenue. However, the city doesn't have the money to operate it as an incubator now, so it's hoping to rent out the building.

It was six years ago today when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, devastating miles and miles of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Day-by-day and brick-by-brick, cities and residents have been rebuilding.  In our series Mississippi Six Years After Katrina: From Rubble to Resilience, we take a look at how far the Gulf Coast has come, and how far it still has to go.

Today, we look at two cities that were ground zero for Katrina.  Bay Saint Louis suffered severe damage and is celebrating its rebirth.  But as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, the city of Waveland was obliterated and continues rebuilding under the strain of a severe budget crisis.

A contemporary building with exterior colors of soft blue, green and tangerine stands vacant on Coleman Avenue, the main street in Waveland. Tish Williams is executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce and said this building was meant to be visionary.

“We are standing now at the site of the Waveland Business Incubator. We really believe, and still believe today, this is the vehicle that will bring commerce back to Coleman Avenue," said Williams.

But now the city can’t afford to operate the incubator, because of the cost of support staff and services.  So it’s hoping to rent out the building.

Williams said her family once operated a business where the incubator is now, before Katrina reduced this coastal village to fields of rubble.

"This city was totally wiped off the face of the earth. The other cities were partially wiped off the face of the earth. And so, if you have to build back from nothing, it’s going to take you longer to do that," said Williams.

Waveland Fire Chief Mike Smith remembers the initial moments after Katrina’s 30-foot storm surge swept away the city.

"It was very strange. You felt helpless and hopeless," Smith said. "As we left the fire station, or the wastewater treatment plant, once the water receded, to me, if I had to relate it to something, it would be like a bomb had dropped. And you had people coming outside and saying, 'What happened?' The ‘What happened?’ look on everybody’s face was astounding."

Today in Waveland, a new library is open. The new Town Hall and fire station are expected to be complete by November. The civic center is finished and has become a public forum for Waveland’s current economic troubles.

"I don’t think this board should even vote on this. I think it’s ridiculous," said Alfred Harris, who was one of more than 100 residents at a meeting of city aldermen in mid-August. The city fired its long-time police chief, cut the police force in half, trimmed a few firemen and cut most city salaries by 10 percent.

Waveland resident Glenn Grannan was at that meeting and said he’s worried about the city’s future.

"What condition is the city in financially? It’s become clear, or clearer, that we do have serious or, at least, what you might consider critical decisions to make," Grannan said.

Many coastal leaders say Waveland’s difficulties recovering from Katrina are worsened by the nation’s economic troubles. Today, Waveland is making more critical decisions with employee furloughs and drastic budget cuts. 

Waveland’s next-door neighbor, Bay Saint Louis, also got smashed by Katrina. But Bay Saint Louis Mayor Les Fillingame said geography was on its side. 

" I think the only thing, probably, that set us a little apart from Waveland was that we did have remnants of structures left in our downtown area because of the elevation there," Fillingame said.  "Our downtown at the foot of Main Street is about a 22-foot elevation."

Fillingame remembers seeing the results of Katrina’s fury.

"Total devastation," Fillingame said. "There was not a structure in Bay Saint Louis that wasn’t severely damaged or destroyed. That included all of our commercial areas and residential areas."

Fillingame says the rebuilding of the city is about 80 percent complete, including most of the water and sewer system, roads, bridges, a new fire station and a new seawall.

"We’ve completely rebuilt the city now to a much higher standard. We’ve got a much more resilient and a much more sustainable community now because of the way it was rebuilt," said Fillingame.

Bay Saint Louis marked Katrina’s six-year anniversary with a community celebration, calling it A New Day in the Bay.  Bay Saint Louis and Waveland are being rebuilt by residents who will not be driven away, even by Category 5 hurricanes.

 

 

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The Waveland Business Incubator is a visionary project intended to bring commerce back to Coleman Avenue. However, the city doesn't have the money to operate it as an incubator now, so it's hoping to rent out the building.


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