TESS VIGELAND, HOST:
The small town of Waveland, Miss., near the Louisiana border, was walloped by Hurricane Katrina ten years ago. The last decade has been tough. The city and its residents have struggled to rebuild in the face of all kinds of obstacles. Evelina Burnett of Mississippi Public Broadcasting has the story.
EVELINA BURNETT: Standing on the second floor balcony of Waveland City Hall, Mayor Mike Smith points out what used to be here on Coleman Avenue, the main downtown thoroughfare.
MIKE SMITH: There was a building around here on the corner. And then there was a drugstore and some more shops on the right-hand side.
BURNETT: There were 29 businesses on this road before Katrina. Today, there are just six. South of City Hall, it's largely empty lots broken up only by for-sale signs. Luckily, Waveland has another commercial district away from the water, and the mayor says business-wise the city's doing OK.
SMITH: What we’re hurting at is our residents. We had roughly about 8,000 residents when Katrina hit, and we’re at about 6,400 now.
BURNETT: Nearly every residence here was damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, many inundated by an almost 30-foot storm surge. Other Mississippi coastal towns have blossomed after the storm. Bay St. Louis, next door to Waveland, is bustling with new beachfront restaurants and businesses. But Waveland has struggled, because it was virtually flattened. Mayor Smith blames the cost of flood insurance for the slow redevelopment. Federal requirements to rebuild at higher elevations are also a factor. Kathy Pinn had a business on Coleman Avenue. An NPR reporter was there 10 years ago when she first saw what remained of her shop
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KATHY PINN: Oh, my God, this is - this is my shop. That's my awning. This is our car.
BURNETT: Pinn re-opened her gift shop in the city's commercial area off the beach in 2007. But the recession that took hold the following year walloped her business, and she closed in 2009. Pinn remained hopeful about coming back to Coleman Avenue, but then...
PINN: The BP oil spill happened, and a lot of people who were thinking about - that was about four-and-a-half years, almost five, into the recovery - that just stopped a lot of growth that would have come at that point in time. It just made everybody rethink it.
BURNETT: Two years ago, Pinn and her husband moved to Illinois, where they have family. LiLi Stahler Murphy served as an alderwoman in Waveland for eight of the past ten years. She thinks the oil spill made a big difference in the trajectory of the city’s sluggish recovery.
LILI STAHLER MURPHY: We had just opened our brand new fishing pier, and then the beach was closed for that whole summer. That I thought was going to be our real break-out summer. And that was rather disheartening and not our fault, but it is what it is, and it slowed us down a lot
BURNETT: Still, Waveland seems to be doing what it can to make itself attractive to potential businesses and residents. Mayor Smith says the city received about $300 million in federal funding and now has brand-new just about everything - public buildings, infrastructure. Smith, who became mayor last December, wants to return Waveland to where it was before Katrina.
SMITH: And I don’t mean just in building-wise, but just in the attitude that people had. It was a very nice, relaxing place to live, and it’s been quite busy since then, but I want it to be like that again.
BURNETT: Waveland will mark the 10th anniversary of the storm with a hurricane homecoming at its Ground Zero Museum, also on Coleman Avenue. For NPR News, I'm Evelina Burnett in South Mississippi.