Katrina & Beyond


The rebuilding decisions faced in New Orleans are being made in other cities and towns across a huge stretch of the Gulf Coast, and this morning we'll hear about one town that wants to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The mayor there is already speaking of what her town may look like in the future. NPR's Howard Berkes we to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran is reminded constantly that her town of 18,000 is still struggling. This weekend she accepted three new police cars donated by Washington Township, New Jersey.

Mayor CONNIE MORAN (Ocean Springs, Mississippi): I certainly don't mind signing my name to receive three wonderful police vehicles. We definitely need them, huh, Chief?

Unidentified Man: Absolutely. We've lost five vehicles.

BERKES: And when she tours Bayside neighborhood, when she sees yet again what wind and waves left behind, her eyes water and her head shakes.

Mayor MORAN: That's the mother of a friend of mine, Ms. Munro's(ph) house. It's only a few years old. Lost its front, completely gutted, but the roof is there.

BERKES: So this was an apartment building here?

Mayor MORAN: Yes.

BERKES: There's nothing left. There's some bricks and a frame.

Mayor MORAN: Bricks and frame and just clothes and paper tightly twisted around the limbs of the trees, and that's it.

BERKES: It's like this block after block. But away from the waterfront, the damage is less. Those in intact homes have water, sewer and power. So this town of shrimpers, casino workers, shipbuilders, artists and professionals has something left to build on.

Mayor MORAN: It would be very easy to be overwhelmed by the debris on the sides of the street. There's a house leaning on top of mine at the moment. And it would be very easy to just dwell on that and worry on that, but I'm trying to see beyond that as if it's already gone. I'm already a year down the road.

BERKES: Moran envisions quaint street lights when the waterfront is rebuilt, along with condos and homes, restaurants, a new harbor complex, new parks and new peers. All consistent, she says, with a 300-year history and an arts-and-crafts culture.

Mayor MORAN: It's all a clean slate now. There's nothing there left. And that's going to be my goal, to try to create something even better than what we had. It was great before, but it could be better. And now, if it's planned right and if we have some funds and can obtain some grants to match with those funds, then I believe we'll have the resources to do that.

BERKES: She hopes one of the cities offering help might send an urban planner and engineer. Money is a big challenge. The damage to homes and businesses and the loss of local jobs means fewer tax dollars for the town at least for a while. There's also been opposition to development like this before. Moran believes the adversity of the moment will forge a spirit of rebuilding like she finds in Michelle Hale(ph), a friend and landscaper who had to swim from a ruined home to survive.

Ms. MICHELE HALE (Landscaper): I think the only way that you can look at it, unless you want to just pick up and leave, is that 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. 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.

(Soundbite of electronic signal for car door)

BERKES: Back at the waterfront, the remains of a highway and bridge reach out into Biloxi Bay. The support's still standing, but the panels holding pavement are gone. Imagine a shattered spine. Moran turns away and points to something odd among brown leaves and naked trees.

Mayor MORAN: A lot of the fruit trees are confused. They think it's springtime, so the Bradford pears are blooming their white, fluffy blossoms.

BERKES: Confused by...

Mayor MORAN: Well, they lost all their leaves with the wind. They think it's springtime. So they're budding out as if it were springtime. So I try to focus on that, something positive. Regeneration.

BERKES: Moran acknowledges optimism is more elusive in some towns on the coast which have little left to resurrect. Still, there are spring buds in the ruins on a sweltering September day in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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