Katrina & Beyond

Mississippi Town Looks Beyond Katrina Cleanup

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In the aftermath of Katrina, a boat in washed up near this home in Ocean Springs, Miss.

In the aftermath of Katrina, a boat washed up near this home in Ocean Springs, Miss. Evie Stone, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Evie Stone, NPR
The highway 90 bridge between Ocean Springs and Biloxi may take two years to repair.

The highway 90 bridge between Ocean Springs and Biloxi may take two years to repair. Evie Stone, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Evie Stone, NPR

It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast. Relief supplies continue to pour in, and rebuilding is barely under way, but some mayors in the region already see beyond the crisis to what their towns might look like in the future.

That’s a challenge for Mayor Connie Moran of Ocean Springs, Miss., a town of 18,000 with century-old oaks and homes on Biloxi Bay. The town’s historic waterfront district suffered serious damage. Many homes were blown or washed away. There’s little left of an entire apartment building, except two steel stairwells leading to thin air.

But Moran already envisions a resurrected waterfront. "It would be very easy to be overwhelmed by the debris on the sides of the street," Moran says. "There’s a house leaning on top of mine at the moment. And it would be very easy to just dwell on that, but I’m trying to see beyond that, as if it’s already gone."

Moran imagines quaint streetlights and new condos, restaurants, and homes, all consistent with the town’s 300-year history and its arts and crafts culture. "It was great before. It could be better now if it’s planned right," she says.

There’s been resistance before to the kind of development Moran envisions. But she hopes the adversity of the moment will forge a new spirit of rebuilding.

Landscaper Michelle Hale seems to have that spirit, despite having to swim for her life from her submerged home.

"You have to have just an inner faith that it’s going to be rebuilt, and that there’s hope and there’s a future," Hale says. "If not, then you would probably be thinking about just gathering your possessions and moving on somewhere else. And we love this community too much to just pick up and leave."

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