Reconstruction underway

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005

BNI News Service

Just blocks away from the beach in Ocean Springs, Miss., traffic is lined up for miles. Lines extend from banks and gas stations and fast food restaurants and grocery stores that are beginning to open for business once again.

But it’s a different story on the beach. More than a week after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, clothing and bits and pieces of people’s lives hang from the trees and power lines are propped up with shards of wood that were once homes.

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“It’s horrible; it’s devastation,” said Stanley Young of Gautier, Miss. “This was just not expected. Camille didn’t even do this.”

Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Aug. 29 devastating parts of Mississippi and sinking most of New Orleans in floodwaters, but Young believes the many ruined cities and communities will be back. And there’s evidence of that all over the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Debris from flattened homes has been pushed off of roadways into mounds to allow Humvees and emergency vehicles to pass through. Disaster relief organizations as well as insurance agencies have set up booths along the highways, and utility companies from all over the nation are working to restore power.

Reconstruction of the Gulf Coast communities devastated by Katrina has begun, but there is still a long way to go.

In Gulfport, Miss., on U.S. Highway 90, the air reeks with decay, raw sewage and saltwater. Casinos that once floated on barges in the water are now in parking lots or in the middle of the street, and trailers from 18-wheelers lie in crunched up piles across the street from where they were before the storm hit.

“The whole area just looks like it was taken and put in a washing machine,” said Steve Swartz of Springville, an Alabama Power Co. employee helping to dry out the Gulfport Mississippi Power office. “I came here Monday, and it does look 10 times better than what it did then. They’re getting some of those trailers out, and we’re a little ahead of schedule.”

It will still take months, though, for those who were displaced by the storm to restore their lives to some sort of normalcy, but most say they can wait.

David Hall’s mother has had her house on Front Beach Drive in Ocean Springs for more than 50 years. It was where his wife and 1-year-old daughter decided to ride out the hurricane since his mother would not evacuate.

Storm surge busted the windows and flooded the home as Katrina made landfall, leaving Hall and his 80-year-old mother using her furniture as rafts. They were saved by nearby family members, but there wasn’t anything they could do for the house.

All that remains is a shell. The inside is filled with rubble of what used to be their valued possessions.

“We’re just still in shock,” Hall said. “This is the house I grew up in, and my sister lives down the street. She lost everything. Nothing happened when Camille came through. We had water up to the porch. With Katrina, we had water up to the roof.”

Hall plans to stay in Ocean Springs, though. He just isn’t sure what he’s going to do until the area is reconstructed. Unlike his mother’s house, his home fared the storm OK, but his job is another story. Hall was supposed to begin work at the Hard Rock Caf in Biloxi last week, but Katrina changed all that.

The east end of the U.S. 90 Bay Bridge that connects Ocean Springs to Biloxi, Miss. was knocked down by the water like a row of dominos and the Hard Rock Caf, like many of the casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, was badly damaged.

But to Hall, it doesn’t really matter anymore.

“I just feel blessed to be alive,” he said. “All this is just stuff. I’ll miss this house, but the rest is just stuff. I’m not going to leave here. I’ll never leave here.”

For the many who are staying, churches as well as organizations like the Red Cross have set up shelters and tents to help.

The National Guard is also in place to assist with security and the humanitarian effort, and contractors are beginning work in the devastated areas.

Maj. Cynthia Bachus with the 131st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment out of Montgomery said the signs of reconstruction are there. Even in just a few days, she said some buildings that appeared to be in ruins are now open for business.

“Holy cow, look at that Lowe’s,” she said Wednesday. “We just drove by there Monday, and it had a huge hole in it. You could see everything on the shelves.”

Now that repaired Lowe’s, located near Pascagoula, Miss. is open for business, as are several other businesses just blocks from the beaches of Mississippi.

It may be months, but to residents like Jason Suringer, the area will be back. Suringer is a landscaper in Gulfport, who saw for the first time Wednesday how destroyed some of the work he’s done was.

“They will build back, but it’s going to take time,” he said.