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After Hurricane Katrina, much media coverage focused on the impact the storm had on New Orleans, but the damage was just as bad and often worse in coastal Mississippi. In East Biloxi, the recovery is still slow 10 years later. Evelina Burnett of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports.
EVELINA BURNETT, BYLINE: Ethel Curry rode out Hurricane Katrina in her upended refrigerator as it floated near the ceiling of her East Biloxi home. As it went higher, she used a fan blade to break the ceiling tile.
ETHEL CURRY: The rafters were so small, I had to hold on to each side to keep my head above the water. And I stayed there five and half hours until the water went down.
BURNETT: Curry was able to rebuild about two years later with the help of volunteers from the TV soap opera "Guiding Light," who joined nearly one million other volunteers who came to Mississippi after the storm. But Curry's is the only rebuilt house on her street, and the memory of the rising water remains.
CURRY: It's frightening, and so much has changed since then, a lot of landmarks and different things. So I myself don't go very far. And if I have to go over a bridge, it's with someone in my family because I'm afraid of the bridges because of the water.
BURNETT: The scars of Hurricane Katrina, visible and unseen, continue to haunt the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In East Biloxi, there are gap-toothed streets with only driveways, marking where houses once stood. This is a low-income, low-lying peninsula that's long been home to the city's working class, its new immigrants and its seafood industry.
JAMES CROWELL: When I look around, a lot of things still haven't changed.
BURNETT: That's James Crowell, President of the Biloxi branch of the NAACP.
CROWELL: It's a lot cleaner, of course, You know, we had quite a bit of debris after Katrina, but when you look at the empty lots and the economic situation here in East Biloxi, it's primarily the same.
BURNETT: Several things have slowed the rebuilding. Crowell says insurance, which has doubled in some areas, is perhaps the biggest issue. Other hurdles, property claims that are complicated when homes have been passed down informally over generations and new federal requirements to rebuild at higher elevations to lessen flooding risk.
CROWELL: That increases the price of that home about 20 to $30,000, depending on how high you have to raise it.
BURNETT: The storm destroyed or damaged thousands of homes in East Biloxi, splitting up families and fracturing neighborhoods. In the most recent census, the population of 8,000 was less than half pre-storm levels. Also haunting, what could have been. Carol Burnett is with Moore Community House, a nonprofit that's worked here since 1924. She says there were three community plans developed after the storm.
CAROL BURNETT: With all the hurricane recovery money that was coming to the coast, I thought the coast had an opportunity to make some of that real. But here we are, 10 years later, and the essential economic inequities that existed before Katrina are still here.
BURNETT: There has been some progress since the storm, hundreds of new homes and public facilities. Moore Community House's new Early Headstart buildings can serve twice as many children as it did before the storm. And people haven't given up hope East Biloxi will thrive. A new community collaborative was formed a few years ago to encourage progress. Again, James Crowell.
CROWELL: I would hope that in 10 years later, that this peninsula would be totally different than what you're seeing right now.
BURNETT: Crowell wants more development, more recreation and an even better East Biloxi. For NPR News, I'm Evelina Burnett in Southern Mississippi.
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