In Town Hard-Hit By Katrina, Buyouts Offer Opportunity — For Lucky Few Ten years ago, tiny Pearlington, Miss., got hit with a 30-foot wall of water, inundating homes that hadn't flooded in 50 years. Some rebuilt — repeatedly — but for others, the incentive isn't there.
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In Town Hard-Hit By Katrina, Buyouts Offer Opportunity — For Lucky Few

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In Town Hard-Hit By Katrina, Buyouts Offer Opportunity — For Lucky Few

In Town Hard-Hit By Katrina, Buyouts Offer Opportunity — For Lucky Few

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, some people are still trying to resettle their lives. And this morning, we have a tale of two families. Both couples live in Pearlington, Miss., part of the Gulf Coast devastated by that storm. A decade later, one couple is finally building a new home. The other couple has finally had enough. They both spoke with NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Tiny Pearlington, Miss. sat directly in Hurricane Katrina's path of destruction, the eye of the storm passing right overhead. Bill Griffin has lived here amid the huge live oak trees on Adams Street for much of his life.

BILL GRIFFIN: Katrina's the first storm that's put water on this street in 50 years. I had 10 feet in that house.

SCHAPER: That house is his modest brick ranch that filled up with seawater but didn't budge from the concrete slab on which it sits.

GRIFFIN: I lost one brick.

SCHAPER: Wow. It's pretty well-built.

GRIFFIN: Oh, yeah. I hate to see it go down.

SCHAPER: But that solid brick home is coming down anyway. It's one of a handful in low-lying Pearlington bought by the state of Mississippi because of the likelihood it will flood again. The Griffins completely rebuilt the house on the inside after Katrina, tearing out the moldy walls and floors.

GRIFFIN: Put all new wires and everything - everything new in it.

SCHAPER: And they were back living in it just a year after the storm. But soon after, the state of Mississippi announced it would spend $10 million to buy out homes in Pearlington that are in what are now considered flood zones. Many of these homes, including the Griffins' had never flooded before Katrina. But they did again during Hurricanes Gustav in 2008 and in Isaac, in 2012. Bill and Gail Griffin signed up for the buyout and waited and waited for years without knowing if they'd be approved. I asked the feisty 78-year-old if he's frustrated.

GRIFFIN: I don't get frustrated, son. I'm too old for that.

SCHAPER: Then daughter Du Juan Bosarge chimed in.

DU JUAN BOSARGE: Well, it is - it has been somewhat frustrating because after they flooded for Isaac, you know, do you put your flood money that you got for the flood insurance back into the home and hope you never flood again? Or do you hold onto that money hoping for the buyout?

SCHAPER: The Griffins hoped for the buyout, foregoing repairs, and finally were approved earlier this year. They closed last month and are now building on an adjacent lot, a new house that will be elevated nearly 23 feet up off the ground, well above new government elevation standards, just to be safe. But they're among the lucky ones. Very few other families in Pearlington are able to cash in on the buyout.

DAVID YARBOROUGH: We're been punished for what happened to us. I'll say it bluntly. And I want Washington, I want Jackson, I want everybody to hear it.

SCHAPER: David Yarborough is the Hancock County supervisor who represents Pearlington and other nearby coastal areas that were hammered by Katrina.

YARBOROUGH: The buyout going on in Pearlington right now, the whole situation's been a joke.

SCHAPER: Yarborough says 117 homeowners signed up to have their flood-prone houses purchased, but only about half were eligible. And he says government red tape has slowed the buying process down. So 10 years after Katrina, just how many Pearlington homes have been purchased through the buyout program?

YARBOROUGH: We're seven or eight right now bought.

SCHAPER: Just seven or eight. Yarborough estimates only a dozen or so homes will be bought in all when the program ends in November.

Among those with no chance of a buyout are Tim and Jacki Blackwell, regulars here at the Turtle Landing Bar and Grill in Pearlington. Jacki says their home, in the nearby Oak Harbor subdivision, was completely inundated by Katrina.

JACKI BLACKWELL: We rebuilt went - for Katrina, and then, like idiots, we rebuilt again. And it flooded again. And then we put some of it back, and then it flooded again. And then after that, we didn't rebuild.

SCHAPER: Each time their home flooded, the Blackwells say insurance covered less and less of the damage, yet their rate soared. Rebuilding now would mean elevating their house, which the Blackwells say they cannot afford. So now?

J. BLACKWELL: We're moving. We're leaving here because we can't do the flood anymore. We lost everything we own two or three times and...

TIM BLACKWELL: We've been living in a camper off and on ever since Katrina.

J. BLACKWELL: So we bought a house in Georgia, and, unfortunately, we have to leave Pearlington.

SCHAPER: Sixty-one-year-old Tim and 62-year-old Jacki say they've just been waiting until they retire.

T. BLACKWELL: Do we sound angry?

J. BLACKWELL: We're just too old to start over like that, you know? So we just gave up, you know? We just basically gave up.

SCHAPER: The Blackwells' move already began earlier this month. Here at their favorite hangout, they've left behind a box with photos and note cards as a way to keep in touch with the friends they've struggled right alongside to get through these last 10 years since Hurricane Katrina. David Schaper, NPR News, Pearlington, Miss.

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